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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 27, 2005
N.S. Preliminary Budget at 4.7 million
By Holly Grosch
NEW SCOTLAND Budget workshops for a proposed $4.7 million plan saw some "serious disagreements over pay and responsibilities of the staff," Supervisor Ed Clark said mid-month between sessions. He predicted more "fireworks" as the process proceeded.
At the Oct. 18 budget workshop, the board went into executive session for an hour to discuss employees qualifications in relation to promotions and salaries. Throughout the closed session, from an office across the hall, voices in the board room could be heard becoming elevated on and off.
With a number of town offices and departments being reorganized, salaries were a consistent sticking point among members of the bipartisan town council.
The preliminary budget for 2006 represents only a 1 percent increase over this year, the plan is scheduled for a public hearing Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. at town hall.
All town employees next year will receive a 4-percent cost-of-living raise, which is 1 percent more than usual. The cost-of-living index is higher this year, Clark said, with the national index at 4.1 percent.
Two town positions have been eliminated and, as a result, other employees will be picking up additional duties in 2006.
The town clerks office will be taking on the additional duties of tax collecting; and the assessing department has dissolved the real-property-appraisal specialist position.
The town board in April passed a resolution eliminating the elected tax-collector position. Personnel services for tax collecting cost the town $20,265 in 2005.
Last week, the board voted, with one dissent, to increase the town clerks personnel budget from $75,040 to $88,915, an increase of $13,875.
Town Clerk Diane Deschenes had requested that her department be compensated for the additional work it will do collecting taxes.
Clark said that he voted against the raise because, although the town clerk and her deputy will have some additional duties, he did not feel it was enough to increase their pay. With additional help from the former deputy tax collector, Arlene Herzog, as a clerk, Clark said, he thought that was sufficient.
Over all, consolidating the tax collector and town clerk departments saved the town $6,390 in personnel cost.
The town clerks salary increased by $2,500 plus the 4 percent cost of living adjustment, for a new salary of $48,057. The deputy town clerk received a 7.25-percent increase to $18.17 an hour up from $16.94. And Herzog will now be paid $14.15 an hour a 7.9-percent increase from her previous position as deputy tax collector.
Real property appraisal specialist Lauren Fahey, working in the assessing office, unexpectedly resigned to have a baby and moved to the Adirondacks, Clark said.
Julie Nooney, the town assessor, introduced to the board last Tuesday her plans to consolidate her office and eliminate Faheys old $35,000 position.
Nooney is confident that she can pick up the additional responsibiliies and perform all the rest of the reassessment task herself, as long as she is given a full-time clerk to assist her.
Meanwhile the assessor and building inspector pressed the board to bring their salaries up to market value.
What about us"
Highway department employee Kevin Schenmeyer stood up near the end of the Oct.18 workshop; on behalf of all the hourly wage earners at the highway garage, he asked the board, "A lot of guys want to know, where we are standing""
The highway employees feel as though they are falling behind in wage compensation, Highway Superintendent Darrell Duncan said.
They hear about increases and stipends for town hall employees but the highway workers arent getting extra increases themselves, Duncan said.
There are about 15 highway employees.
"We don’t know where we stand here...We aren’t a union...We are curious where we are going," Schenmeyer said. "Guys on the hill wonder if anyone is even thinking about them anymore," he said.
Councilman Scott Houghtaling said that he would support a one-time raise increase for the highway employees beyond the usual cost-of-living adjustment.
"They have been a very consistent and a good work force," Houghtaling said. He said he would like to see additional money in the budget for them because as a council member he hasn’t said "yes for 11 years."
"I know we don’t have degrees and courses...but we try to keep up with things," Schenmeyer said. He has been a town highway employee for 17 years.
Two percent more for highway employees would mean $11,000 more to be budgeted, Houghtaling said, adding thats not that much.
When questioned by Clark, Houghtaling said that, yes, he is talking about treating different funds differently different raises for different departments budgets.
"I feel it’s just not good for morale to give some groups this and not others...It’s not good policy...," Councilwoman Andrea Gleason said.
This is something the town board has done with other departments in the past, Councilwoman Deborah Baron said.
"What department haven’t we done this with"" Houghtaling asked. The "only department we also haven’t adjusted is the cleaning staff," he said answering his own question.
Baron said that, over the last three or four years, the highway employees’ salaries have started to lag. "It’s overdue," she said of a raise.
The town doesnt have a system for doing this, Clark said.
Currently it appears to be "willy-nilly," Gleason said.
Every year. its becoming more and more difficult for the board to agree on employee wages, Clark said. There is no consistent approach to raises. Clark has been a proponent of a step salary system for all town employees.
The town board decided to budget the highway workers an additional 2-percent raise across-the-board beyond the 4 percent cost of living adjustment.
Assessor and Building Inspector
Building inspector Paul Cantlin said "we aren’t going to last here forever," and, to make sure that his and Assessor Nooney’s replacement are qualified, the board needs to increase the salaries of their positions, he said.
He said both salaries need to be brought up to a higher level to meet the market value.
It "would rub salt in the wound" if the town raised the building inspector salary after he leaves and not when he is here, Cantlin said.
Cantlin requested a 10-percent raise. He also rallied for a raise for code enforcement officer Jeff Pine.
Cantlin, who receives a higher salary than Nooney told the board that he believes the two position are compatible and that the assessor should be paid an equal amount to the building inspector.
"I have a hard time bringing the two position together," Clark said, because that would mean a substantially higher raise for Nooney.
Nooneys salary for 2005 was $41,400 and Cantlins $46,000.
Councilwoman Baron said to Cantlin, for this year, the town "should pay you what we think you are worth to us." In the future, when the town has to hire a new building inspector, he may be a quarter of the worker that Cantlin is, Baron said, so she likes to consider the person who is doing the job not just the position.
Also, Baron said, she thinks there is certainly a salary limit of how low the town can pay and still have a quality employee.
The town needs to pay people who have already proven themselves, Baron said. She said that the town could, in the future, end up getting someone who only looks good on paper, and she wouldnt want to pay that person the same that Cantlin gets.
Councilwoman Gleason, said she thinks the salaries of replacements should be dealt with later when that time arises.
Clark said, if the board waited to "pump up" the salary after Cantlin left, because the town needed to under the market’s pressure, that would be offensive to the predecessor.
Houghtaling said, "We have limited funds." Not only does the board have to decide what it is willing to pay for a position, but it has to also consider the fund balance.
After an executive session, the board decided that Nooney will receive in 2006, $44,712, an increase of $3,312 or about 7.5 percent more. And Cantlin will receive $50,600, an increase of $4,600 from this year.
When the real-property appraisal specialist was hired in 2004 part of her job was to cross-train Nooney. Nooney told the board that she is now capable of` doing it all on her own with the assistance of a full-time clerk.
Donna McGinnis has been a clerk for both the assessing and building departments.
At Nooneys recommendation, the town board agreed to promote McGinnis. They are giving her a higher rate of $15.93 an hour and making her strictly a full-time assessing clerk.
With all the assessors clerical needs being moved into a full-time position, this created a new type of opening for a basic receptionist for both the building and assessing departments, someone to answer the phones and know minimum computer skills. The board agreed to hire a new employee at $10 an hour, half to be funded by the building department budget and half by the assessors budget.
McGinnis previously spent about 40 percent of her time working for the building department and 60 percent for the assessor, Cantlin and Nooney agreed.
With the reorganization of the assessing office, the total salary cost for the department decreased by about $5,000 from this year. The assessing department budget also decreased by $33,000 because fewer contractual expenses are needed in 2006.
For example, the town contracted for a specialist to reevaluate industrial businesses. A major part of the contracted reevaluation has been completed, Clark said. Also the consultant that helped the town with its revaluation design and who helped to monitor the process to insure that it was done efficiently, wont be needed as much in 2006, Clark said. However, the town expects some new expenses for the assessing department; the town has budgeted money for litigation in case some assessments are challenged, Clark said.
The A-Fund crisis
While dealing with personnel issues, the board faced budgetary constraints.
The town-wide A Fund has a fund balance that is less than the operating deficit of previous years.
Since the A Fund is town-wide, it does not benefit from sales-tax revenue, Clark said. Sales tax distributed among municipalities according to population, is split among the village of Voorheesville and the town, so only the towns B Fund can use sales tax, since the B Fund includes only services provided to areas outside the village. The A Fund is dependent on property tax and mortgage tax for revenue instead, Clark said.
The town is anticipating receiving $30,000 less this year in mortgage tax revenues.
Increasing costs for the town include fuel cost and health insurance. Additionally the town didn’t offer retirement benefits two years ago, but does now; that is a continuing "tremendous cost," Clark said.
The A Fund included all the administrative personnel, Clark said.
One of the biggest blows to the town budget this year is the unexpected charge of $48,000 from the county to pay for changes in the election process a result of how Albany County is responding to the federal Help America Vote Act.
"That is a huge shock to our system," Clark said.
He said the larger towns in the county are challenging it, such as Colonie which has a half-million-dollar charge from the county to fund new election mandates. But proportionally, it is just as much of a shock to the New Scotland budget, Clark said. He also sent a letter to the county executive, with the same messages as other neighboring towns; he said he hopes the countys expectation changes after receiving so much pressure.
The A Fund reserves are depleting, Clark said. "We are nearing closer to our reserve." The B Fund, on the other hand, is holding much steadier with the help of sales tax. Between now and 2009, the B Fund reserve will hold up, but the A Fund reserve only has one year left, Clark said. He anticipates that the town board will have to adopt a tax increase for the A Fund.
Looking toward the future
With the Length of Service Award Program referendum passing this fall, the towns volunteer firefighters will next year start earning points to receive $700 in retirement benefits annually. But, the town wont have to budget and pay out on that until 2007. This additional expense for 2007s budget was on the back of board members minds as each fire district introduced their budget to the town board.
Gleason offered the suggestion that the New Salem Fire Department try to rent out its hall more to bring in some additional revenue; she said she thought that was one of the reasons for the building improvements.
Craig Shufelt, who along with his father, is a member of the New Salem Fire Department, said that the department had not been promoting or marketing hall rental, but that it has been using the addition for classrooms and offices.
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