Lewisboro has a 2013 budget with a 4.7% increase in the tax levy.
In a surprise move Monday night, Town Board members voted on the $10,236,000 document a week earlier than planned. The voting results were 4-1, with Town Board member Dan Welsh the lone dissenter.
“It’s not the budget I wanted but it’s the best budget I am going to get,” said Town Supervisor Peter Parsons as he made a motion to adopt the document after opening and closing a required public hearing. Town Board member Frank Kelly gave the second.
Passage of the budget was accomplished after a controversial board vote last week to break the state’s 2% tax levy cap. That vote was followed by a well-attended unusual meeting early last Saturday morning designed to find ways to make additional cuts.
The first budget submitted by Mr. Parsons called for a 17% tax increase that included funds for mandated employee benefits, debt service, restarting a road resurfacing program, and making repairs to highway equipment. The total extra expenditures proposed for 2013 totaled $890,000.
Mr. Parsons said repeatedly that he believed the highway department should get the money called for in his budget to make repairs to the town’s deteriorated roads and keep its equipment running.
The three Republican members of the board immediately took the highway department money off the table but still had to deal with mounting employee benefits and debt service for old borrowing. Both are statutory and therefore unavoidable.
That dilemma led to a whittling away at other parts of the budget in an effort not to break the 2% cap. The board members voted unanimously on Dec. 3 to pass a local law enabling the town to break the cap, fearing they could not reach the 2% mandate.
They proved to be right. After honing the budget-cutting knife as sharply as possible, they were still left with the 4.7% increase as of Monday night.
Mr. Parsons opened the public comment section, saying the budget as presented shows a $246,098 increase in the town tax levy. This is possible only because the board reduced net spending outside of benefits and debt service by $167,541.
Two members of the public, Jeff Vreeland and Paul Lewis, both of South Salem, spoke out in favor of the first budget and its funds to pave roads and repair and maintain equipment.
“Is there anything in this budget that reflects the ‘new normal’?” Mr. Vreeland asked. “I can’t clear trees or repave roads. You are giving away the stewardship of this town. I find this budget offensive. The responsibility for stewardship comes from this board.”
Mr. Lewis said that while he appreciated the board’s efforts to keep the tax levy increase below 2%, he believed the budget was not in the best interests of the town.
Responding to earlier suggestions from board member Peter DeLucia and Frank Kelly that the town should borrow money for road repairs, Mr. Lewis said, “The highway department budget should be restored. The funds for this should be in the budget and not in a bond. You should not go to a referendum for basic needs. Borrowing to pave roads is wrong. We should pay as we go. Trickle-down debt is not a responsible option.”
Goldens Bridge resident Richard Sklarin asked several questions about Police Department expenditures and suggested reducing highway expenses through using outside contractors for certain types of work.
Former Supervisor Charles Duffy asked the Town Board to reconsider giving Lewisboro Library employees a 1% salary increase in 2013.
When the public comment section was ended, Mr. DeLucia defended the board as providing good stewardship.
“We have exercised it,” he said. “We decided to pave Chapel Road. That was a huge thing. We now need to get a good bang for our buck and explore paving options. Putting $200,000 into roads is fruitless. If we are looking at a million dollars or so we should bond. Rates are cheap. We can do a permissive referendum.”
According to Town Comptroller Leo Masterson, Lewisboro has done its share of borrowing in recent times. When asked by The Ledger about the amount of debt the town and its special districts are carrying, he said it was $11.6 million in long-term debt and $2.3 million in bond anticipation notes (BANS), for a total indebtedness of approximately $14 million.
When the budget was put to a vote, Mr. Parsons said he was resigned to not getting the highway department money this year and would vote yes.
Mr. Welsh, a proponent of road repaving and equipment maintenance, said, “There are some basic items I disagree with, so I am going to vote no.”
Republican board members John Pappalardo, Mr. Kelly and Mr. DeLucia all voted in favor of the budget.
“We have worked in a very professional and polished manner on this budget,” Mr. Pappalardo said. “This is not a perfect budget. I wanted to come in at 2% or less, but we have done a great job without compromising essential services. Mr. Parsons has done a good job of bringing the roads to our attention and we are committed to improving them.”
Speaking to The Ledger on Tuesday, Mr. Parsons summed up his feelings about the 2013 budget. “It’s a status quo budget, and no supervisor should aim for a budget that stands still,” he said. “But it is better than taking a step backward.”
When asked by The Ledger why he voted for the budget after advocating so long and hard for the highway department and roads, Mr. Parsons said, “The Town Board is not just for voting your emotions and feelings. It is the executive branch of government in the town. I believe it is my job to cast a vote in favor of good government. I want to minimize the political gamesmanship we see at the national level. It has no place in town government, and I will do my best to avoid it.”