Town Board members will ask department heads to cut deeply in the coming weeks, as they attempt to whittle down the 11.36 percent tax increase contained in Supervisor Frank Del Gallo’s 2011 budget proposal.
Councilwoman Nicola DiLeva plans to ask the department heads to reduce their spending by 20 percent during individual meetings with them later this month. At the board’s agenda meeting this week, she blasted Del Gallo for proposing the double-digit percentage tax hike during a year when some residents are struggling to make ends meet.
“Coming out with an 11 percent tax increase is absolutely insane,” she said Tuesday. “There’s money we can cut in that budget.”
Del Gallo fired back in defense of his budget, which he described as austere. He said the only way he could see to reduce the budget further without disrupting services or laying off town workers was to raid the surplus, as previous administrations had done.
“Show me where to take it off,” he said, shaking a copy of the budget.
Del Gallo’s budget proposal relies on $1.5 million from the town surplus, known as its “fund balance.” He said this was about $375,000 less than what the previous administration used to lower taxes this year.
Del Gallo also pointed to the board’s increasing reliance on the fund balance, which is budget money unspent in previous years. He said the town use of fund balance went from $322,000 in 2000 to $1.87 million last year, and that the over-reliance on this pool of money must end. “By 2014, we’ll be $800,000 in the hole,” he said.
The $21.2 million spending plan would maintain the present level of services. But a 35 percent increase in retirement contributions, coupled with a 15 percent jump in health insurance premiums and a 23.7 percent rise in workers’ compensation insurance cost, means the town will need to shed at least three jobs to avoid an even greater tax increase.
DiLeva and Councilman Matt Martin both asked to sit down with each department head separately in order to have them justify the spending increase. DiLeva said she didn’t get a chance to question them while Del Gallo was formulating the budget.
As a target, DiLeva suggested the board shoot for a maximum tax increase of 3 percent. Martin said if the board does need to increase taxes, the burden should be on the department heads to show why they need certain line items.
“They need to come with numbers,” he said. “The burden of proof is on them to explain why it costs more.”