Guilderland’s $36M budget for 2020 to pay for more overtime and televised meetings

Enterprise file photo — Elizabeth Floyd Mair
Meetings of the Guilderland Industrial Development Agency, like this one, will be livestreamed on the town website and televised beginning in 2020.

GUILDERLAND — On Nov. 7, the town board adopted a 2020 budget that, at $36,198,182, is 2.98 percent higher than this year’s budget, according to figures announced by Supervisor Peter Barber before the board voted. The tax rate, however, decreased by 28.8 percent, from 26 cents to 19 cents $1,000 of assessed value, due to the 2019 town-wide property revaluation. 

The total tax levy is $11.8 million, an increase of 2.49 percent from 2019 and below the town’s state-set levy limit of 3.96 percent. 

The vote was 4 to 1, with the board’s lone Republican, Lee Carman, voting “no.” Carman told the other board members that he was not in favor of the increase in economically difficult times when some residents have already seen their taxes rise and are struggling as a result. 

Carman is finishing out his term through December, having lost his bid on Nov. 5 for re-election in a three-way race that saw Democratic incumbent Rosemary Centi re-elected and Democratic newcomer Laurel Bohl oust him.

The lion’s share of non-tax revenues for next year’s budget — $12.7 million — comes from county sales tax, which is divided among municipalities based on population. Other revenue sources include emergency-medical-services revenue for the year, projected at $1.7 million, and revenue of $341,600 from leasing town property for telecommunications antennae and renting town facilities. Mortgage tax is expected to drop by more than 50 percent, to $450,000, due to a projected drop in mortgage filings associated with the possibility of higher interest rates, Barber said. 

The largest share of expenditures — $14.3 million — is for salaries and benefits, which will increase by 2 percent, except as provided in collective-bargaining contracts. The highway department budget alone totals $5 million. Guilderland has a number of separate districts, such as for lighting and water, each with their own budgets.

 

Police 

Less is budgeted next year for the command line in the police department: Chief Carol Lawlor is set to retire in mid-January, according to Barber. The budget line will decrease from about $440,000 this year to about $366,000 next year.

Comptroller Darci Efaw told The Enterprise that the town is in the process of searching for a new chief, which involves posting the job opening with the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police and on the town website, emailing subscribers, advertising in the Times Union, and canvassing the Albany County Civil Service list.

The deadline for applying, Efaw said, is Nov. 15. The interview committee will consist of town board members, Efaw, and possibly town attorney James Melita, Efaw said. The board hopes to appoint the next chief at the town’s reorganizational meeting in early January. 

A position in the police department was changed from part-time to full-time to meet a new state mandate for discovery responses, Barber said. A new state law now requires prompt disclosure of videotapes including body-camera or dash-camera footage and any oral or written statements in criminal proceedings.The extra work required making the position full-time. 

These materials have to be given to the defense in every case, within 15 days of an arraignment, said the deputy chief of the Guilderland Police, Curtis Cox. The time frame is actually about half that, he said, because the police have to pass the material over to the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, which gives it to the defense. “Anything and everything has to be forwarded,” Cox said, and various employees are helping with establishing the procedure to do this.

The budget includes increased overtime pay in the police department, by 30 percent, up to $300,000 and dispatch, by 17 percent, up to $55,000 said Cox. With 39 employees, the force is about the same size as last year, he said; over the last few years, Guilderland has used more overtime than it had budgeted for. Dispatch, Cox said, has a limited number of employees, and at least two workers need to be on duty.

The need for overtime work is unpredictable, he said, and is influenced by, for instance, storms that occupy many officers, sickness, and even by officers being called up for military service. This year, “to try to be more realistic, we have had to increase that line,” he said. 

The budget provides $60,000 for two police cars. Cox said police vehicles are subject to a lot of wear and tear since they are on the road “almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” The department is frugal with its vehicles, and when they cannot be used on patrol any longer, gives them to command staff who do not need to run out on calls all the time. The next step for a vehicle, after that, if it can still be used, is to turn it over to the town for a non-police employee to use, or to sell it at auction. 

The vehicle he drives now, Cox said, is a previously marked police car. 

 

Court interpreters 

The 2020 budget increases the funding, from $5,500 to $10,000 for interpreters of foreign languages in Guilderland Town Court. 

Barber said he believed the increase was based mainly on the number of arrests by the State Police on the Thruway where it passes through Guilderland. 

 

Highway and EMS  

For future equipment purchases, $33,000 was added to the highway department’s reserve, Barber said; the current balance in the highway reserve is $50,000. 

The budget provides for purchases of an ambulance, a vehicle for the building-and-zoning department, a senior-transport vehicle, a transfer-station front-end loader, and a snowplow. 

The budget lines for emergency medical services are increased for salaries, supplies, and equipment for a full year of ambulance service. This was needed because the town started its ambulance service in July 2018 with just one ambulance, and it took until early 2019 for the town to acquire additional ambulances. The 2020 budget is the first yearly budget with full-year EMS expenditures and revenues. 

The EMS budget for 2019 was $1,882,230, and for 2020 is $2,555,294, he said, attributing that increase to the addition of staff and equipment needed for a full year of operation. 

A new reserve line of $30,000 was added for future ambulance purchases. 

 

Meetings 

The 2020 budget adds funding of $2,500 for livestreaming on the town website of town, planning, zoning, and Industrial Development Agency board meetings. 

A new bill recently passed in the state legislature and signed by the governor calls for all open meetings and public hearings to be livestreamed on a municipality’s website and for a video recording to be posted on a municipality’s website within five days. 

Guilderland had not previously videotaped its IDA meetings as it has the meetings of other boards.

The town will pay a one-time $500 set-up fee to Earth Channel HD for the new live website broadcast of IDA meetings, and will also pay a $2,000 annual increase for this service, Barber said. 

Meetings of the town board, planning board, and zoning board of appeals are currently videotaped, shown on television live, and on later replay. They are also posted on the town’s website and indexed — so that the viewer can click on an agenda item of interest and watch that portion of the video. 

There is no plan, Barber said, to record the meetings of the Development Planning Committee, which started in September 2019 and are open to the public. At these meetings, held at 10 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month on an as-needed basis, developers meet at town hall with the heads of various town departments to discuss their plans for projects they have not yet formally proposed. 

 

Town historian

Like this year, the town historian will be paid $2,545 in 2020. 

The Enterprise asked Barber if the town historian fulfills the duties of the position, defined in state law as doing research and writing for the general public; teaching and public presentations; historic preservation; and organization, advocacy, and tourism promotion. 

Barber said the town historian, Ann Wemple, provides assistance to the town’s grant writer on grant applications and comments when asked about pending land-use projects; she also answers residents’ inquiries about genealogy and other topics, and represents the town at meetings of Guilderland Historical Association and advises town staff on proposed work at the town owned historic Schoolcraft House and Mynderse-Frederick House.

Wemple added that she periodically consults with other town departments on town matters; she also determines if residents’ questions are more general in nature, or if they are in-depth and best referred to a professional genealogist. 

Wemple said she also periodically meets or consults with residents regarding their personal records and ephemera and makes recommendations and determines if the town will receive their donations. With the parks department and buildings-and-grounds department, she reviews requests for use of the Schoolcraft House and Mynderse-Frederick House, she said. She consults with the Guilderland Historical Society and other groups, she said. If residents make suggestions regarding town matters that are outside her purview, she passes them on to the appropriate town department. 

 

Information technology

The 2020 budget creates a new information-technology department, for $147,000, with funds transferred from other departments for the purchase and maintenance of IT equipment. 

By centralizing the technology-related purchases in one department, Barber said, the town can better manage expenses by making bulk purchases, and can more easily budget for replacement equipment. 

 

Digitizing records 

The town has budgeted $8,000 for inventorying town records in anticipation of moving to more electronic storage, Barber said. 

He explained that the inventorying will be done by a company called Access Storage, which will look over the town’s paper records and make recommendations on digitizing them. That work should help, Barber said, with grant applications for the conversion. 

 

More Guilderland News

  • Altamont trustees during last month’s board meeting expressed concern with the conflict-of-interest waiver because Sept. 7 was the first time they’d heard anything about it. 

  • The new local law is subject to a permissive referendum, meaning a petition can be submitted to the board requesting the issue be put to the voters in a special election.

  • The parties are scheduled to appear at the Foley Federal Courthouse in Albany on Oct. 7, at 10 a.m., when the state will have to make the case as to why Judge Lawrence Kahn should not grant the temporary restraining order until he can make a determination on the plaintiffs’ motion for the preliminary injunction.

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