ROTTERDAM — The town’s preliminary budget for the 2022 fiscal year came under scrutiny during a public hearing Thursday, with some arguing the $26 million spending plan doesn’t adequately fund essential services and disproportionately impacts businesses.
The proposed budget keeps spending flat by slashing services in order to compensate for increases to personnel spending ($359,932); debt services ($235,967) and contract services ($162,691).
Residential taxes would increase by one cent per $1,000 of assessed value, but the proposed rate for non-homestead taxpayers, or those owning commercial properties, would climb by 24%, from $7.05 to $8.80 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The plan would also reduce highway department spending by more than $270,000 and eliminate funds reserved for equipment purchases.
The proposal is another blow to an already struggling department that has been dealing with staffing shortages and using outdated equipment, said Steven Skoda, a resident employed by the department.
“We currently are bare bones as it is at the highway department. … We’re hoping you guys can consider at least helping us refill our budget to help us get the staffing we need,” he said.
Skoda said if things don’t change, the department will struggle to plow roads this winter and other services provided will either be reduced or severely hampered.
Evan Christou — in explaining the proposed budget allows the town to stay under the state’s property tax cap — asked if Skoda would rather see the town “blow the tax cap.”
“You need to do what you need to do,” he said. “If it involves raising taxes, it’s what has to be done for the town to be safe for residents.”
Others who spoke said the proposed spending plan unfairly impacts businesses and will keep new businesses from opening in town.
Charles “Jack” Dodson, a Republican who is projected to be seated on the Town Board in January following Tuesday’s election, said the proposed budget is “anti-business” and said the town must figure out a way to maintain services without putting the burden on taxpayers.
“On behalf of the Rotterdam Business Association and businesses within the town of Rotterdam, I cannot stand up here and say I am in favor of that kind of tax increase for the businesses,” he said. “It’s anti-business in my mind. We need to encourage businesses to come to our town, and we’re never going to encourage or be competitive with other towns when we’re asking for an over 20% tax increase on the businesses.”
The proposed spending plan has changed significantly since Supervisor Steven Tommasone unveiled his initial budget last month.
Tommasone’s original plan proposed increasing the residential tax rate to $3.92 per $1,000 of assessed value and the non-homestead rate to $8.98 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The retooled plan slashes spending where possible and borrows more than $330,000 in reserved funds to stay under the tax cap.
Tommasone was not in attendance for Thursday’s meeting.
But Christou, the deputy supervisor, said the Town Board is committed to finding an outcome that will benefit all residents of Rotterdam.
He said the ongoing pandemic has “changed the dynamic” of the budget process, pointing to an increase in contractual services, the result of a disrupted supply chain.
He added that the town’s failure to properly maintain its infrastructure is also a driving factor, particularly when it comes to the aging wastewater treatment plant, which the town is in the process of upgrading.
“At this point, I’m not big on kicking the can down the road,” he said. “I really believe that sometimes hard decisions need to be made in order for our children and grandchildren’s future.”
Christou said the current board will work alongside the newly elected officials going forward.
Republican Mollie Collins is expected to be the next supervisor, and Joe Mastroianni, a Republican, is also expected to be seated on the board alongside Dodson.
“Hopefully we can collaborate with the incoming administration because no matter what the decisions made, it’s us plus 29,000 residents that have to live with the budget and the hard decisions,” he said.
A public hearing on the proposed budget has been left open to give residents an opportunity to weigh in. A final spending plan must be adopted by the middle of this month.