Shandaken Board working to reduce budget expenses

By Jay Braman Jr.
A special session to shave dollars from the Town of Shandaken’s $5 million preliminary budget yielded little results Monday night, but there are some items, including raises for staff and officials, on the chopping block.
Filled with four percent raises for all public officials and non-union employees plus a whopping 18 percent increase for the town’s ambulance squad, the preliminary plan caught attention when first revealed earlier this month, prompting one councilman to note that while this would be a hard winter for town employees it would be harder for taxpayers.
While the overall hike in the total tax levy is slated to be just under seven percent, an increase that most taxpayers in previous years have grudgingly lived with, the levy for the general fund portion of the budget, or the non-highway department half, makes up all of it. In itself, the general fund is slated to leap to 11 percent, a figure that, in previous years, has made taxpayers squirm and demand an explanation.
In contrast the highway department side of the budget has an increase of less than one quarter of one percent. With a tax levy increase of only $27,302, the highway side of the equation drags the general fund’s increase down.
On Monday the board sharpened the budget axe, but has yet to use it. There was discussion of eliminating raises for all elected officials and dropping the raises for employees, though nothing was decided. The board is also considering the elimination of the building inspector position that was instituted in 2007, though it was noted that the department makes money for the town, so cutting it out and having the county take over the building department chores would also send any revenue from the department out of town and into county coffers.
There are other lines in the budget that could stand reduction, said Councilman Vincent Bernstein, pointing out a $7,000 line called “planning and management development.” This year only half that amount was used, and that was for a last minute hiring of a consultant to prepare comments on the proposed Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park.
Bernstein said final decisions on budget cuts would be made next Wednesday, Nov. 5, after a public hearing on the plan. The hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. that evening with a town board meeting immediately following.