Ambulance request in Shandaken budget

By Jay Braman Jr.
The budget process has begun this year in Shandaken with two of the most expensive departments hitting the ground running, asking for new vehicles, and another department head asking for extra, unbudgeted help for this year.
That was the case at a recent special meeting of the town board. The meeting was called to make a decision on the long-hovering tax issue for the City-owned Pine Hill sewer plant, but Supervisor Peter DiSclafani warned the budget season has apparently started as well, noting ambulance department personnel in the audience along with the town’s tax assessor, both with funding requests.
Each year town governments must prepare a spending plan for the following year. The process follows a strict timeline, with town governments required to submit preliminary plans to the county level of government in October and a final budget plan the following month. Preparations usually begin in September, with department heads providing “wish lists” to the town board.
The timing was tough for ambulance representative Dennis Frano, who was on hand to ask the town board to buy a third ambulance for the already expanded department. The request, which could cost well over $100,000, came immediately after the board decided to reach a settlement with the city that would cost taxpayers an extra $75,000 a year.
Frano explained that ambulance departments are required to mothball vehicles after a certain amount of time/mileage. Of the two ambulances now in operation, he said, one is scheduled to be replaced one next year.
But the department, he said, has a better idea. They want to buy a new one this year and get it into service immediately. By having three vehicles, two important goals are accomplished. First, the town will have better coverage in the event of multiple calls, which can happen especially during the ski season with Belleayre Ski Center being in the department’s district. Also, the third ambulance will allow the department to reduce the annual mileage they put on vehicles by using all three instead of just two. This, he said, would mean longer vehicle life for each.
A bonus, he added, is that available this year is a fuel efficient diesel engine model. That engine, he says, will be discontinued after this year, forcing the department to purchase an ambulance with a gas-guzzling, extra-big engine.
But since there is no money in the 2009 budget for such a purchase this year, DiSclafani asked the board to consider tapping the towns Good Neighbor Fund. The fund, filled with money supplied by the City of New York as part of the 1997 watershed deal, is for capitol expenses only and began with over $600,000. It has now fallen below $480,000.
DiSclafani said there are two options.
“We would have to up taxes for it or take it out of the Good Neighbor Fund,” he said.
But Councilman Vince Bernstein reminded the board that there is a third option. Not buying it.
Noting that he has been against runaway spending since taking office last year, Bernstein said the board should go in the opposite direction of what was being discussed. He thinks that, rather than increase taxes, the town should reduce spending.
“The town should work to get by on less instead of making the taxpayers pay for more,” he said.
Following the ambulance request, DiSclafani said that the police department wants a new cruiser next year at a cost of around $28,000.
After that, tax assessor Heidi Clark asked the board to consider hiring extra help for her department this year to the tune of $6,000.
Shandaken currently has one full-time and two part-time assessors.
Mike Ricciardella, a member of the town’s economic development committee and one who keeps an eye on taxes, warned that granting these requests would open the floodgates for other departments to make similar requests and the board may find it hard to say no.
Ricciardella couldn’t believe that, during these tough economic times, the board was considering using over 25 percent of its Good Neighbor Fund.
“Why not just spend it all,” he said sarcastically. “Go ahead. Spend it.”