The Clarkstown Town Board unanimously voted on Thursday night to override the state’s two percent state property tax cap and also to put into place the 2013 budget of $137,301,805. The budget for the coming year increases taxes by 6.2 percent. The average dollar amount per homeowner for the increase is $199.30.
During two hours of public hearings, Clarkstown residents made suggestions for budget cuts, asked for line-by-line explanations and criticized the amount of the increase.
Tom Nimick of New City went through parts of the budget questioning increases and what certain line items actually covered. He requested specifics about salaries in the highway department and for the public works administrator and about savings from the town garage consolidation.
When he commented, “The costs for the attorney’s office are quite high,” Town Attorney Amy Mele responded, “The current situation is we run as lean as we can run.”
Bardonia Resident Michael Hull wanted to know how the town justified a 6.2 percent tax increase when Social Security payments were only rising by 1.8 percent next year. He suggested that the town ask the police department to give back some of its recent salary increases and also consider layoffs as a way to get the unions to accept lower wages.
Joe Ciardullo said the town should operate more like a business and learn to work with limited funds.
“Government can just go to the taxpayers and say we want more money,” he said. “These proposed increases, I don’t see any end in sight.”
Town Supervisor Alex Gromack said over the past three years most of the department heads have been told to make five percent cuts in their budgets.
Council member George Hoehmann acknowledged the 6.2 increase was significant and said the town is continuing to look at ways to save including private-public partnerships.
“It just seems we as citizens can no longer live here,” said Tom Leonard of Congers. “The salaries that we pay people to do common tasks that do not require degrees are very high.”
Gromack attributed much of the budget increase to Rockland County’s transfer of costs for the Board of Elections, mosquito control, Rockland Community College tuition chargebacks and police officers, whose salaries had been reimbursed by the county. He explained about four percent of the tax increase was due to the transfer of expenses by the county.
“Primarily we were able to get ourselves to the two percent tax cap if it weren’t for the costs that the county legislature and executive government has shifted to the towns,” said Gromack. “If these costs weren’t shifted to the back of our town residents we were in line to have a budget that was under the cap.”
Gromack said state required pension and health care benefits accounted for the largest increases in the budget aside from the county’s transfers.