Chatham cuts one job, eyes axing another in budget prep

CHATHAM–The Town Board voted last week to have the county prepare property assessments and dissolve the position of town assessor.

The board also discussed having an independent contractor do the tasks currently assigned to a full-time maintenance worker at the Town Hall. The board did not come to any decision on that budget line.

The October 25 session of the board was a special budget meeting. The board reviewed the Highway Department budget with a few changes before going to back to the general budget to discuss the assessor and the maintenance worker.

The board is voting on each department’s budget as board members review it with the aim of having a preliminary budget to present to the public for a hearing on November 10 at 6 p.m. The board plans to adopt the 2017 budget in mid-November.

Right now the tentative budget is below the state property tax “cap,” which next year requires the town to limit any increase in the amount of money raised by taxes to less than 1%. Budget and labor consultant Michael Richardson, who is working with the town on creating this budget, said that the budget-to-budget difference from this year to last “was pretty close to keeping it flat.”

Cutting the assessor and moving that function to the county would yield a modest savings to the town. Mr. Richardson said the assessor’s salary was about $23,064 with pay and retirement benefits. Going with the county, at $7 per parcel, would cost the town about $18,000 annually.

Councilman Bob Balcom stressed that he supported the change not for the savings but for the objectivity the county would bring to the service. He said that assessments should be based on the collection of data and a check list. “I want it to be a clean product,” Mr. Balcom said.

Councilman Henry Swartz said that he couldn’t support cutting the position because it would mean laying off an employee who has worked well for the town. “I can’t take the face out of it,” he said of cutting the assessor’s position.

Councilman John Wapner had another reason for not wanting to cut the position. He talked about home rule. He didn’t see why the town would give up the service for such little savings overall.

Mr. Balcom, Councilwoman Landra Haber and Supervisor Maria Lull all supported moving to the county service. Ms. Lull said her responsibility was to the taxpayers and that this was something that could be outsourced to save money.

“We all adjust to change whether we like it or not, but I think it’s best for the town,” she said.

Mr. Swartz and Mr. Wapner voted against the section of the budget but it passed with the three votes from the other board members.

The board then discussed whether it would save money to cut the full-time maintenance worker at the Town Hall. The current employee makes about $43,000 a year with benefits.

“I have concerns about this one,” said Ms. Haber of the cut. She wanted to make sure the board wouldn’t be paying more for outside help to clean, plow, mow and maintain the building. Ms. Lull presented the board with bids on cleaning services for the building. There was some debate among board members about having the Highway Department plow the parking lot at the town hall.

“One thing that is pretty clear is the 1,000 hours of work that needs to be done here,” said Mr. Balcom, looking at the Citizen’s Finance Committee’s breakdown of the work needed to maintain the building. The board discussed cutting the worker’s hours down to part-time, at about $16,000 a year, without health benefits. Ms. Lull said she would speak to the employee and get back to the board.

They will continue to discuss that position and talk about the salaries for Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals members at their next meeting. Also on the agenda is a plan to discuss outsourcing the position of town code enforcement officer/building inspector.

The next budget meeting will be Tuesday, November 3 at 7 p.m. in the town hall.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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