The Town of Gardiner apparently will be exceeding the state-mandated 2.0 percent tax cap after Supervisor Marybeth Majestic has unveiled the 2023 tentative budget that has a projected 10.7 percent increase in the amount to be raised by taxes.
The amount to be raised in the taxes in the 2023 budget is estimated to be $2,141,697, an increase of $206,398 over the 2022 spending plan of $1,935,299.
Following a public hearing where there was no comment from town residents on October 4, the board unanimously voted to override the tax limit at its October 11 meeting. The Town Board will continue to review the spending plan before voting on it.
Majestic explained that the 2023 overall tentative budget of $3,020,394, which includes all the districts in the town, is up 7.6 percent over the 2022 spending plan of $2,807,112.
The total budget includes the general fund, highway department, sewer, water, lighting, library and the Gardiner and Shawangunk Valley Fire Districts.
The part of the budget that must adhere to the 2.0 percent tax cap does not include the library and two fire districts.
The increase in spending in the general fund currently stands at nearly 20 percent, but Majestic pointed out that total includes requests from department heads to bump two part-time clerks up to full-time employees. One request came from the highway department, while the other was from the assessor’s office.
Majestic said requests for salary increases from town departments went as high as 25.0 percent.
“While I realize how difficult the past few years have been to keep the town running, I’m concerned with giving increases that will be difficult to sustain as we enter more difficult, unstable economic times,” Majestic said. “It’s important for our employees to recognize the town, unlike corporate businesses, can not make a profit.”
Majestic said she limited pay increases to non-union employees because of the considerable benefits full-time employees receive.
Majestic proposed salary increases of 5.0 percent for full-time town hall employees and elected officials and 6.5 percent for part-time employees.
Also factoring into her decision to cut pay requests from department heads was the fact that the Town of Gardiner is currently negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the union that represents the highway department.
Majestic said the union has presented a proposal that would increase pay for the first year of the contract to “just shy of 12.0 percent for an increase over three years of 18.0 percent.”
During the budget discussion, longtime Town Clerk Michelle Mosher made it plain she wasn’t happy with the pay increases proposed in the tentative budget. Mosher, who announced this will be her last term in office, put in for an 8.75 percent pay increase.
“I believe I’m worth that,” Mosher said. “I actually feel pretty unworthy right now by having it reduced. Personally, I believe everybody in town hall should have a cost-of-living increase.”
Councilwoman Laura Walls saw both sides of the pay-raise issue.
“I’m a big proponent of paying people what they’re worth,” Walls said. “But I owned a private consulting business. This is a public forum. So, it makes it a little bit difficult. Civil service type of things where this is the rate you get. Two people could get that rate and one is exceptional and does twice the amount of work. And the other does half the amount of work, but that’s the nature of that contract.”
Mosher interrupted and said, “I’m not civil service.”
Mosher’s current salary is $63,581. Under the tentative budget, it would increase to $66,760.
Later in the meeting, Highway Superintendent Brian Stiscia told the board he thought he deserved a larger increase, too. He currently makes an annual salary of $66,270. In the tentative budget with a 5.0 percent increase, he would make $69,584. Stiscia said he’d like a 7.0 percent increase.
The town board will hold a public hearing on the proposed spending plan at its November 1 meeting.
In other news, the board unanimously approved a renewal for the franchise agreement with Spectrum.
Under the new 15-year agreement, Gardiner customers will receive a 2.0 percent decrease in their Spectrum bill. It will drop from a 5.0 percent charge to 3.0 percent, according to Councilman Warren Wiegand.