Featured Story

Residents can weigh in on town’s budget: Public invited for hearing on Wednesday

While so much focus has been on Tuesday’s national election, the Town Board is looking to residents to turn their attention to the 2021 budget proposal that will impact their lives.

The preliminary budget posted on the town website totals $13.095 million of which $10.2 million would have to come from taxes, compared with $9.84 million in taxes to fund the current spending plan.

The increase represents a 3.6% increase, going above the state-mandated 2% tax increase.

At Wednesday’s public hearing, speakers will have an opportunity to suggest additional cuts or support spending in areas not currently budgeted.

Unlike the school district budget, there is no public vote on the town spending plan. This is the only opportunity residents will have to air their views before the Town Board votes for a 2021 budget.

Supervisor Gerry Siller and Town Board members have worked at creating a spending plan for next year while the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be persistent for much longer than most would have imagined when it started.

That factor and some one-time spending, including renovations at the Medical Center, contributed to the increases in the current budget. An estimated $167,000 has been overspent in the current fiscal year.

The town hopes to receive about 75% of money related to COVID expenses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but a check is not in the mail and possible reimbursement is not yet assured.

Taking a conservative approach to revenues for 2021 is based on lower revenues received this year.

COVID-19 has been part of the reason for lower revenues as some programs have had to be cut. Estimates for 2021 are partially based on anticipated fee hikes to contractors to cover costs associate with handling and disposal of materials not sufficiently covered by the existing fee schedule. There could also be an increase in the cost of town garbage bags.

But that doesn’t make up for losses in revenues such as lower fees for use of the FIT Center and some recreation activities that aren’t likely to be offered — at least at the beginning of next year.

There’s a freeze on salary increases for all elected officials. But there’s also the reality that many town employees are union members whose contracts required previously agreed upon increases in pay.

The one bright spot in anticipated revenues is the mortgage tax that, thanks to a hot real estate market, is expected to grow in 2021.

It was budgeted for the current year at $260,000, but is now projected to be $330,000 in 2021.

The hearing gets underway at 1 p.m., Wednesday and while meetings continue to be virtual, those who want to participate can either join the discussion by streaming the session live on the town website, or requesting access through Zoom by reaching out to Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar at [email protected] or phoning 631-749-1166.