Salary cuts balance Chatham town budget

CHATHAM–The Chatham Town Board passed a preliminary budget last week with steep cuts in salaries for the Town Hall maintenance worker and members of the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals.

But at the November 3 meeting the board reversed an earlier decision and changed the budget line for the assessor’s office, deciding to retain the position of town assessor instead of outsourcing assessments to the county. The decision came a little more than a week after an October 25 special meeting on the proposed budget at which the board had agreed to hand over assessor duties to the county.

Supervisor Maria Lull said at the November 3 meeting that current town Assessor Daniel Horst had met with her and offered to reduce his salary to meet the savings the town had expected from its plan to use the county assessment services. At a budget meeting October 25, the board passed a preliminary budget for the assessor’s office that was based on the county rate of $7 per parcel for a total of $16,795. Mr. Horst said that he would stay on as assessor for a salary at that amount, which would be a cut from his current salary of $22,064.

Mr. Horst does not receive health benefits but that town must pay the employer’s part of his Medicare and Social Security withholdings, and those would bring the cost of retaining the town assessor up to about $19,500 annually.

The board voted unanimously for the revised budget that will keep Mr. Horst in the job.

The board also decided to keep the current Town Hall maintenance worker but at half his salary and with no benefits. Ms. Lull said she also talked to that employee after the last budget meeting and he agreed to stay with the cut in salary and benefits.

Once the board had adopted the preliminary budget, Councilman John Wapner thanked the two employees who took pay cuts. “Two town employees really stepped forward,” he said.

The board voted unanimously for the Planning Board budget, which would cut members’ salaries to $75 per meeting, which comes out to $900 for the year. The chairperson would receive $100 per meeting for a total of $1,200 a year. Currently the board members receive $2,655 a year, the deputy chair receives $3,100 and the chair receives $3,700. The Planning Board has a total of seven members.

Councilman Bob Balcom said he had looked into other towns in the area and could only find one, Ghent, that paid Planning Board and ZBA members. He said in Ghent, only the Planning Board is paid, with members receiving $55 per meeting and the chair receiving $2,180 annually and the deputy $1,655.

According to the neighboring Town of Austerlitz preliminary budget for 2017 on the town website, austerlitzny.com, there is a budget line of $6,460 under the line for “Planning Board Member.” In the minutes for the Austerlitz 2016 organization meeting, Planning Board members were slated to receive $915 for four members and $2,800 for the chairperson. There is no mention of costs for Austerlitz ZBA members.

Mr. Balcom said he also looked into the number of members on the Planning Boards and ZBAs in other towns. Of the 19 towns in the county, he said the majority have seven members on the Planning Board and five members on the ZBA. Only three towns of 19 have seven members on their ZBAs. Chatham currently has seven members on both boards.

Both Mr. Wapner and Councilman Henry Swartz pushed to keep the Planning Board at seven members. “If the Planning Board is going to have a bigger role in our new system, keeping it at seven would be good,” said Mr. Wapner of the updated zoning laws a town committee is currently working on for the town.

With the proposed new laws, Mr. Balcom said the role of the ZBA would decrease, much like the ZBAs in other towns.

The preliminary budget will decrease ZBA salaries to the same level as the Planning Board–$75 for members and $100 for the chair–and reduces the number to six members. The Town Board does not have the power to remove a board member but the new budget only funds all six members, so the member whose term up in the current year will not be funded next year. ZBA Chairman David Everett’s seat is up at the end of 2016.

The board also discussed outsourcing the services of the code enforcement officer/building inspector to an engineering firm. Supervisor Lull said that she reached out to several firms, some of which work with local municipalities. She said there seemed to be no cost savings with outsourcing the job and many private companies are no longer working with towns. The Chatham Town Board approved a preliminary budget that keeps its two code enforcement and building inspectors for now.

Ms. Lull said that creating this budget “has been an education.” The board started the process fearing it might face a deficit, but this proposed budget is lower than the state-mandated cap on tax levy increases, which is under 1% this year.

She thanked the members of the Citizen Finance Committee and budget consultant Michael Richardson, who volunteered his time in creating the budget with the board.

“We’ve made some changes from where we organically started,” she said of working with the board on the budget.

The preliminary budget will be on the town’s website at chathamnewyork.us. The board will have a public hearing on the budget Thursday, November 10 at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall on Route 295.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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