Shandaken mulls major cuts in 2009 town spending plan

By Jay Braman Jr.
The Shandaken Town Board met in a special session last Monday to begin work on the 2009 budget. And from the sound of it, everything is on the table when it comes to possible spending cuts.
The informal session, which was sparsely attended, saw the board members seated at a table scrutinizing the current figures in the budget in an attempt to find places to save money.
Right off the bat there was disagreement over how brutal the cutting should be. Supervisor Peter DiSclafani, who recently favored no raises in 2009, said that all non-union salaries should increase four percent next year. He changed his mind, he said, because energy costs have risen so high that it’s going to be tough for workers to make ends meet.
Councilman Vince Bern-stein disagreed with the raises because he feels it’s the board’s job to try and keep taxes low for the same reasons.
“It’s gonna be tougher on the taxpayers too,” he said.
The board is also considering the cost savings of closing the town’s building department. For years Ulster County provided a building inspector to the town at no cost except to collect the fees that came from building permits. Two years ago the town dropped that service and created its own building department, which this year operates with a $27,000 budget. It was noted that building permit revenues are down this year, causing concern that the department has become more of an expense than expected. The board will review the department and also check with the county to see if Shandaken can once again use a county building inspector.
The ambulance department is another place that will be put under a microscope in the coming weeks. The department saw a dramatic budget increase this year and board members noticed the costs have gone up considerably, although the fees taken in by the department have gone up too.
There was talk of waiting to see how much revenue the town can expect from the state level in light of the recent state budget cuts, and DiSclafani said that at least one revenue stream that was expected to be flowing already has not yet begun.
The cell tower built on town-owned property is still not producing any income, so the anticipated revenue can’t be counted on.
The good news is that there are no large capitol expenses planned for next year by the ambulance and police departments, but there might be some costs to fix up the town hall as DiSclafani is looking for estimates to make energy saving improvements to building.
There was discussion about creating a Phoenicia Improvement District by pubic referendum this November. At present the town helps the SHARP Committee operate a $7,000 beautification project along the hamlet’s Main Street. If approved, that cost would be paid by the taxpayers in Phoenicia.
This raised a timely issue, according to Frank Nazzaro, a town resident who ran unsuccessfully for supervisor last year.
Nazzaro, who volunteers for the local food pantry at the Phoenicia Methodist Church, suggested the town shift gears and prioritize more current concerns. Nazzaro said the number of families that need help from food pantry is growing rapidly, but the town only contributes $1,500 to it. Nazzaro thinks more funds should go to the pantry and the beautification program should be done with volunteer help.
“We’re spending fives times more on flowers then on food right now,” he said.