The Shawangunk Town Board adopted their preliminary budget on Thursday, setting the public hearing for Nov. 5 at 7 p.m.
According to the town supervisor, the preliminary budget may hold a surprise or two for town residents.
For starters, tax rates for the general fund would be raised by less than half a percent, while the highway fund would see a five percent increase.
“That’s where most of the increase is going to be,” said Town Supervisor John Valk, Jr. “People will be shocked.”
Supervisor Valk explained that the last few winters have been rough and the town has found itself spending 50 percent more than planned for salt and sand. In addition, the cost of blacktop has increased and the cost of repairs for the town’s highway vehicles is “phenomenal.”
The town has approximately 93 miles of road to maintain. With an estimated cost of $100,000 per mile to repave, the town can only complete three or four roads each year and patch where needed.
“The state has cut back on grant money and we don’t know what’s coming next year,” said Valk. “We’re trying to plan so the residents don’t have to suffer.”
In the general fund, residents will notice an increase for the police department, which includes the previously approved purchase (not lease) of police vehicles. It also reflects the settlement of the police contract last December, using “realistic numbers” for payroll rather than the prior estimations.
Valk made a point of thanking Chief Gerald Marlatt for “being a good administrator” and finding ways to save the town money including with the vehicle purchase and the recovery of equipment from old vehicles.
The line for building improvements also shows an increase, however Supervisor Valk said that is “deceiving.” Rather than moving the unexpended $27,000 from this year into a fund, they are keeping it in the budget or “liquid” to keep the funds available. If the town purchases the old fire station for the police department, they can then use those funds to make the necessary improvements.
The preliminary budget also includes a two percent raise for town employees and a one percent raise for elected officials.
“There will be zero taxes for the sewer district,” said Valk.
Valk explained that the state audit directed the town to use the district’s fund balance, so the town will be applying enough to avoid taxing residents altogether next year and rates will remain the same. Residents will not see a sewer bill in 2021.
The rate for the water district will increase by ten cents, to cover inflation.
The preliminary budget is within the tax cap. Valk stated that the town can raise up to $85,000 by taxes and after applying $20,000 of that to the general fund, he applied the rest to fire districts, ambulance and the highway department. Since the town will not be collecting sewer taxes in 2021, that provided an additional $56,000 which was applied toward the highway department.
In essence, the preliminary budget calls for a rate increase of about 4 cents for the general fund and 51 cents for the highway fund. Factoring in the equalization rate, a property assessed at $200,000 would see an increase of about $21 in their property taxes next year.
Like everything else, the town’s budget has been impacted by the ongoing pandemic.
“We’re holding our own,” said Valk, explaining that with so much shut down this year the town did save money in a way, but also saw loss.
Many municipalities have felt the loss of sales tax during the pandemic, but Ulster County is different. Shawangunk is one of 20 towns that shares just three percent of the sales tax in the county.
Valk said the loss of about 10 percent sales tax only costs the town about $1,500 in revenue. What really smarted was the drop in interest rates.
“It’s our biggest loss,” said Valk, estimating it will fall between $20,000 and $30,000.
“We can’t really plan for the year ahead,” Valk said candidly. “I’m optimistic as we get through this the economy will get stronger.”