Salary increases criticized, defended in R’ville $2.8M budget proposal

RENSSELAERVILLE — While Rensselaerville’s preliminary $2.8 million budget for 2019 has remained under the state-set levy limit, some residents are wary of salary increases for town workers, which include the supervisor and town board members.

Supervisor Steve Pfleging said at the Nov. 8 town board meeting that there would be no reason to vote to surpass the state-set tax cap this year as the board had done in previous years as a never-used precaution.

“It’s a 1.3-percent increase, so it’s under the 2-percent tax cap,” he said.

Pfleging told The Enterprise that the preliminary budget, not including special districts, will be about $2.3 million, an increase of about $33,000 from the 2018 budget. The total budget, including districts, would be $2.77 million, up a little less than $75,000 from last year’s $2.695 million budget.

After being elected supervisor last November, Pfleging is proposing his first budget. He said it became a preliminary budget on Oct. 30.

The 2019 preliminary budget includes:

— $1,040,611.72 appropriated for the general fund;

— $1,260,891.94 appropriated for the highway department;

— $185,500 appropriated for all three fire districts serving the town, which would be covered by taxes specific to those districts;

— $8,850 appropriated for the town’s two lighting districts, which would be covered by residents of those districts;

— $2,500 appropriated for the town’s fire hydrants, to be covered residents in the area with hydrants;

— $45,012 appropriated to the town’s sewer district, which would be paid for by an equal amount of sewer rents and penalties; and

— About $45,000 appropriated to the town’s water district, which would be covered by unmetered sales and penalties.

Revenues for the budget include:

— $1,141,703.94 in property taxes;

— $816,046 in revenues outside of property taxes or the unexpended fund balance, with $575,000 of this consisting of county sales tax revenue; and

— $100,000 from the unexpended fund balance.

Pfleging said that sales-tax revenue from the county is projected to remain the same as last year based on the past five years of data, despite concerns that declining sales at county shopping venues as online shopping increases could affect this, which Pfleging said was considered in the projection.

Despite a county program that began this year, which would double 2019 costs, added costs for emergency medical services were minimal. The county paramedic program increased from around $60,000 to $63,000. Costs for a basic life support remained the same at $60,000, despite the fact that the costs for the service in 2019 are supposed to double, but the county’s emergency medical services department has said billing for next year won’t be due until 2020.

Refuse charges will see a big jump, of $5,000, said Pfleging. Another $2,000 is attributed to increases in fees for commingled recyclables, but the net cost remains low because the town will cover the cost with revenue from recycling metal, said Pfleging. In total, around $104,000 would be allotted for refuse and recycling, up from about $97,000 last year.

Salary increases

The budget also funds increased salaries for the supervisor and the town board members, all part-time positions. Pfleging said the goal is to “try and get it back where it used to be.”

The salaries for the town board members will increase from $3,000 to $3,500 each, and the supervisor’s salary will increase from $12,500 to $14,500 for a total added cost of $4,000. The tentative budget, which precedes the preliminary budget, had proposed a total increase of $8,000.

Town Councilwoman Marion Cooke told The Enterprise that, about six or seven years ago, each town board member gave up $500 in salary to offer $2,000 more to the supervisor.

Other salaries will be increasing slightly, said Pfleging, to match with cost-of-living increases. The part-time clerk for the planning and zoning boards will have a wage increase from $12 an hour to $13 an hour, for example.

Pfleging said that the cost will not be significant because the clerk works for only 6 to 8 hours a week, but hopes that it makes town positions more attractive. The post of clerk for the planning and zoning boards was not filled until last month after Pfleging left the position when he became supervisor in January.

Town resident Marie Dermody, a former town supervisor and frequent participant in town meetings, was critical of the salary increases. She noted at the Nov. 8 budget hearing that New York State’s minimum wage of $10.40 an hour in 2018 and $11.10 an hour in 2019 does not apply to public agencies, including the town government. Instead, such agencies follow the federal minimum wage law; the federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour.

While Dermody said this hourly wage is “far too low,” she went on to criticize the wage hikes of town employees, noting that the wage increase for the planning and zoning board clerk is an 8.33-percent increase, and for the justice clerk is 20.83 percent; and the increase for town board members is 16.7 percent and for the supervisor is 16 percent.

Dermody said that the increase to the town board salaries should be done incrementally. She was also critical of the supervisor’s raise from $12,500 to $14,500.

“Steve knew what the salary was when he ran for office last year,” she said, adding critical remarks about the $4,000 allotted in this year’s budget to pay Valerie Lounsbury, the previous supervisor, to work in the town hall and offer guidance to Pfleging.

Pfleging was present for the town board meeting on Nov.8 but did not attend the prior budget hearing.

Dermody said that, on the other hand, the 2-percent raises for Highway Superintendent Randall Bates and Recycling Coordinator Jon Witbeck were “insultingly low.”

A letter to the town board from resident Diana Hinchcliff stated that the salaries should be limited to 3-percent increases.

Councilman Jason Rauf defended the increases, adding that he thought it was “convenient” of Dermody to describe the raises as high-percentage increases of what he described as “low-dollar salaries.”

The two justice court clerks $2,400 a year salaries would increase to $2,900; in total, an increase to the budget of $1,000. While there were no increases listed in the preliminary budget for the planning or zoning board clerk salaries, an 8.33-percent increase for the combined salary of $5,500 for the two jobs would be around $460.

Fire districts

Fire-department costs are covered by revenue from each fire district, and the the three department budgets are each increasing due to a recently enacted state law that requires departments cover the costs of insuring interior firefighters who are at risk of cancer.

Pfleging said that funds were added to each of the three fire departments in town — Rensselaerville, Medusa, and Tri-Village — based on the number of firefighters requiring the new coverage. He expects costs to continue to rise in coming years as more firefighters take the required physical exam to be covered.

Pfleging is the chief of the Medusa Fire Department, which had added $800 to its budget. The Tri-Village Fire Department had $1,700 added, and the Rensselaerville Fire Department had $1,700 added to its revenues but also had  $2,800 added to its appropriations.

Pfleging said that insurance rates have gone up in the general budget but that projected costs dropped due to people leaving insurance plans; the medical insurance expense decreased by $20,000 in the preliminary budget because someone had died, for example, he said.

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