Westerlo adopts $2.8M budget, anticipates further costs

WESTERLO — Westerlo will stay under the state-set tax cap this year, but is anticipating increasing costs in garbage fees and charges for the county’s ambulance service. The town met its deadline, but residents were concerned that the board did not act as quickly or as much in tandem as it could to develop its 2018 budget.

The town board adopted the tentative budget as its 2018 preliminary budget on Nov. 8, and then, after a discussion, adopted the the preliminary budget as the town’s final budget for next year.

The $2,808,661 includes a 1.84-percent tax-levy increase, or $1,305,742 to be raised in property taxes. The budget is also funded by $1,371,320 in revenues and $131,599 from the appropriated fund balance. The town is budgeted to receive $1,030,000 of revenues from sales tax.

The 2018 budget allocates:

— $1,257,390 to the general fund;

— $1,045,041 to the highway fund;

— $82,599 to the library fund;

— $12,500 to the museum fund;

— $230,863 to the fire district;

— $100,000 to the rescue squad district;

— $73,000 to the water fund; and

— $7,268 to the Westerlo and South Westerlo lighting districts.

Town councilman William Bichteman said Westerlo would ideally like to maintain its fund balance, but will be drawing from it next year as expenses such as garbage increase. The last recorded amount for the fund balance was at the end of 2016, and was the amount carried over from 2015, totalling about $150,000, said Bichteman. He told The Enterprise the that the fund balance will have a surplus after some years — such as following a light winter — and other years will have to draw from that.

“The ideal thing would be to have that segregated fund balance, to keep that for a rainy-day fund; but it’s hard to do that … ,” because of unexpected expenses, he said, citing an example: “The tipping fees alone this year are going from $50 and are forecast as much as $80.”

He later told The Enterprise that the town has previously been charged $52 per ton of waste, which is now looking to be closer to $70, but over the years could increase to $80. The town dumps about 1,500 tons of waste a year, he said. The budget shows an increase in garbage expenses of $11,700.

Concerns raised and answered

Speaking from the gallery at the Nov. 8 meeting, Lisa DeGroff, Westerlo’s GOP chairwoman, asked why the town would not consider charging for dump permits. Stickers for such permits would cost the town only about $40 and could prevent out-of-town residents from dumping there, she said.

Bichteman said, while campaigning, he observed upwardly-mobile residents that view the town only as a bedroom community and pay little interest to it.

“Their only benefit to their taxes they see is that dump,” he said. The town is budgeted to collect $1,000 in garbage charges, the same amount as last year. Bichteman told The Enterprise that these were charges to private companies that collect residents’ trash and use the transfer station.

Supervisor Richard Rapp, who was absent from the recent town board meeting, told The Enterprise last month that tipping fees charged to dump the town’s trash at the Rapp Road landfill are expected to go up by about $25,000.

“That’s the big thing, the garbage,” Rapp added.

The town is also looking at a $20,000 increase in charges from the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, to cover the costs of an emergency medical technician stationed in the Hilltowns; the cost will increase exponentially over the next four years.

Rapp said he would be discussing the costs with Sheriff Craig Apple. The preliminary budget shows a $29,000 increase in the town’s ambulance line item.

The Westerlo Rescue Squad is budgeted to spend and receive $100,000 in property taxes, but Bichteman said he expects the rescue squad to spend $20,000 less because it will be purchasing new radio equipment mandated by the county with its own funds. The $100,000 was arranged in a contract with the rescue squad.

In the audience, Betty Filkins, the wife Councilman-elect Richard Filkins, said a woman she had spoken to  had been billed for a trip on an ambulance. Councilman Anthony Sherman said the county’s ambulance service bills.

Bichteman told The Enterprise that Albany County is still determining how to divide the revenues of insurance billing between the town and the county, and so Westerlo has yet to receive revenue from this.

Bichteman said at the meeting that there are no salary increases, but there will be increased hours for one of the deputy town clerks by 10 hours, which will increase personnel costs.

He said that he was proud of the board making this an easier-to-understand budget. This meant that some of the line items were moved or changed, but the budget has had very little financial changes, said Bichteman.

Some other items may have appeared increased or decreased because workforces were changed from contracted workers to highway workers, and so the money will be drawn from the highway and not the general fund, for example.

The board held a public hearing prior to its vote to adopt the budget, which included comments about the timeline of the budget. While Westerlo resident Diane Sefcik had written a letter to the editor critical of the town board’s slow pace in creating a budget, from the gallery she credited the board at the meeting of doing better than in previous years.

While DeGroff acknowledged the town has currently met the lawful deadlines in developing the budget, she asked that the town begin development as early as July in order to ensure that town residents with no or poor internet service will have an idea of what the budget will be before it is approved.

Bichteman said that this would be difficult to do, as the board must receive figures from the fire departments, rescue squads, and other agencies, as well as ensure the insurance figures are accurate, which is easier to do closer to the date the policies are in place, he said.

The town budget must be adopted by Nov. 20, according to state law. Last year’s budget was adopted on Nov. 15, following a public vote that nixed a proposed $887,000 capital project.

More Hilltowns News

  • An important need — health care in the rural Helderberg Hilltowns — was filled because it was clearly defined. A brave woman, backed by her family, stepped forward to take a risk because she cared about the people she had treated. A community, led by a modest man with great energy and dedication, rallied others to the cause in an organized and positive way. So now the old doctor’s office in Berne has opened as a new medical practice.

  • After its first appointee declined the position because he could not attend the required office hours, Westerlo has appointed Garth Slocum to replace Peter Hotaling as sole assessor.

  • Westerlo’s tax levy for 2020 is $1,351,230 —a mere hundred dollars beneath the tax-levy limit of $1,351,336.22

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