Schenectady County

Rotterdam faces tough 2009 town budget

Supervisor Steve Tommasone decided against including raises for the town’s elected officials in a pr

Supervisor Steve Tommasone decided against including raises for the town’s elected officials in a preliminary 2009 budget, citing an estimated double-digit percentage increase in Rotterdam’s tax levy.

Revenues from interest earnings, mortgage and sales tax receipts are predicted to decline by roughly $400,000 next year. The lost revenue coupled with increases in personnel costs, energy expenses and contractual services will drive an estimated 4.7 percent increase, bringing the general fund levy to about $6.9 million.

In addition, the highway fund levy is expected to jump to $3.7 million or by about 5.5 percent. Tommasone said the result of the two increases will likely mean a double-digit percentage increase in a “worst case scenario” budget, which identifies a total of $20.7 million worth of spending.

The previous year’s $19.9 million budget reflected a 2 percent decrease in highway and general fund allocations. Under the 2008 budget, homeowners paid a tax rate of about $3.36 per $1,000 of assessed property value, while commercial properties paid $5.59 per $1,000 with the town’s dual tax rate

Facing an almost certain increase in taxes, Tommasone said, he didn’t feel it was a proper time to consider raises for the Town Board members or other elected and appointed officials, as recommended in August by an ad hoc committee. The five-member committee suggested an immediate 20 percent salary increase for the elected supervisor and Town Board members, as well as members of the appointed Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals.

The committee suggested increasing the supervisor’s and highway superintendent’s terms from two years to four years; it also recommended a cost of living allowance for both positions.

In their report, the committee indicated the Town Board and supervisor hadn’t received raises since 1991, while the planning and zoning board salaries hadn’t changed since 1998, when they were decreased. The committee also suggested the cost of campaigning every two years was hurting the effectiveness of the offices of supervisor and highway superintendent.

Tommasone said the recommended salary increases didn’t seem sensible during a year when the town is facing such a difficult budget situation. He said the committee’s justifications for the raises wasn’t compelling enough to outweigh the impact on taxpayers.

“If we were in a better position nationally and, in particular, at the state level, we might consider it,” he said, following a budget committee meeting Monday evening. “But at this time, we can’t.”

Tommasone did include money to fund an appointed economic development specialist position for the town. The position, which was given a $47,500 line item in the supervisor’s office budget, will be focused on grant writing and attracting business to the town, among other obligations.

The deputy supervisor’s position was also given a $1,500 stipend in the budget. Tommasone said the position — now occupied by board member Joe Signore — will become effective with the day-to-day operation of the town’s water and sewer districts.

Tommasone said he will also discuss offering early retirement incentives for some town employees. He said the early retirement might reduce some of the taxpayer burden if it is supported by the Town Board.

“If the [board] is going to do one thing, this is the year to do early retirement incentives,” he said.

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