Thursday's town budget meeting made very few changes to the budget beyond those made at the much longer budget workshop, but the few changes were significant, and there was a lot of conversation about some potentially major changes to be discussed in future years. Sadly, there was almost no one there from the public. WHCU sent a reporter, I was there, and the rest were town board members and town employees.
The budget only changed in three places. The most minor one was that a line in the recreation budget increased from $8000 to $10,000, as had been agreed at the previous workshop but not reflected in the budget.
The other two changes applied to the Fire District. Councilman Chris Michaels asked that there be funding for an emergency services coordinator of some kind, someone who understood fire and rescue services to help board members interpret and handle data and requests from the fire companies. Councilman Steve Stelick noted that the idea had the support of the fire chiefs. There was some discussion about whether this needed to be a permanent (if part-time) position, or whether a consultant approach would work. In the end, the board decided to put $25,000 in the fire budget for this, $20,000 of it likely to be an annual expense and $5,000 of it for getting started.
The board also discussed buying $8500 of ice water rescue equipment, for use in the town's many ponds and creeks. There was some discussion I didn't understand about a proposal (they didn't say from whom) to put this appropriation under recreation, but the board decided to put it into the fire district budget, as the equipment would be stored at and used by Neptune Hose Company.
Councilman Stelick, with the support of Councilman Marty Christofferson suggested reducing the money for the fire audits ($40,000 unspent this year) and applying some of that to the new expenditures, but the audit money stayed with support from Councilman Michaels. Michaels noted that the board might not spend the money later, but that "would be a different issue".
Highway Superintendent Jack Bush and Environmental Planner Debbie Gross were also there to discuss their budgets, but no changes were made.
There were a number of other discussions which didn't affect this year's budget, but which will drive conversations over the next year or so. Councilman Christofferson asked about the state of the town's reserve funds, and what they might be able to spend on a new Town Hall. Based on preliminary numbers, Bookkeeper Dawn Bogdan suggested that $2 million might be reasonable. As some of that money is dedicated to the new Town Hall, the board can make appropriations to pay for preliminary work out of those funds rather than the general budget. Councilman Michaels asked for some kind of fiscal statement.
Councilman Hattery asked that the town move a lot of the items currently under Highway Townwide to Highway Outside (the villages), reflecting that the town spends nearly all of these funds outside of the villages. There was some discussion of how the town shares equipment with the villages, and I asked how this would change things if new villages were added, but overall it sounds like it wouldn't have an effect on taxes, as the state requires sales tax revenue to go first to the Outside parts of the budget. I need to do more research on this. The board will re-examine it next year.
Councilman Michaels raised the question of the Town Supervisor's salary, pointing out that "$15,000 limits the office to the retired or the independently wealthy," and wanted to see that raised so it didn't have such a limiting effect on possible candidates. Councilman Hattery noted that the Town of Ithaca pays two salaries, one for the elected official side of the job and one for the administrative part of the job, and the Town Board can separate the two jobs if necessary. Councilman Christofferson said that the town's survey of salaries in other towns showed the Supervisor's pay was all over. Michaels wants to see the town discuss this early next year, before people have to decide if they want to run. There was also discussion of making the Supervisor's job a four-year term, which would require a referendum, but no action was taken.
At the end of the hearing, the board approved the budget. There was also brief mention of a complaint about parking problems during Tuesday's election at the Varna Community Center, which has two districts voting, and of a request from the Ellis Hollow Community Center that will be considered at the next meeting.Posted by simon at November 7, 2004 10:29 AM in emergency services , public finance , recreation , roads, traffic, and transit