CATSKILL — It’s crunch time for local municipalities in terms of getting budgets passed.
The Catskill Town Board unanimously adopted its 2020 budget after a series of three budget workshops and a public hearing. The budget is set at $6.98 million, a 2.8% increase over last year.
“The town began the budget process in September, asking each department head to put forward a budget based on their analysis of department needs,” Town Supervisor Doreen Davis said. “The board then reviewed those plans with the department heads at a series of three budget workshops held throughout the month of October.”
Davis described the initial tentative budget, presented in October, was a compilation of “wish lists” from departments. The tentative budget called for a 3.9% increase. The town board was then tasked with getting the budget down to within the state tax cap.
The tax cap is set at 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
With the exception of last year, the board has delivered the budget below the tax cap levy for three of the last four years, Davis said, citing sewer costs for the increased budget in 2019.
“The final budget was $9,189 under the tax cap levy,” Davis said.
On the revenue side, the town has seen an increase in building permits, Davis said.
“Revenues increased by 1.4% to a total of $2,698,070, a result of increased business permit activity related to economic development realized throughout the community,” Davis said. “This left $3,908,023 to be raised by taxes.”
Building permits specifically increased from $32,698 in September 2018 to $82,591 in September 2019, Davis said.
The tax rate for 2020 will be $6.35 per $1,000, according to the budget.
For expenses, Davis cites health care cost increases for employees, modest salary increases and investment in the ambulance service.
“We also put aside funding to supplement a comprehensive plan review and to fund costs incurred as a result of legal actions taken against the town,” Davis said. “The town judiciously drew [$370,000] from its fund balance to remain under the levy.”
In the new year, the town plans to review its 12-year-old comprehensive plan, Davis said.
The town also applied for a Community Smart Growth grant with the state Department of Environmental Conservation for the process.
“The DEC’s announcement in April accelerated a conversation we already started by applying for the grant,” Davis said.
The Environmental Protection Fund has supported the Community Smart Growth program since 2007. This year, the program has $400,000 available to municipalities and non-profit organizations in the Catskill Park.
Having an up-to-date plan is important as new projects and businesses come to Catskill, Davis said.
“We’re now at a point where we can take a breath and can tackle what we consider the next steps,” she said.
Davis expects the town will need $50,000 to $75,000 to hire a professional consultant.
A team of students with Cornell University’s Department of City and Regional Planning assessed Catskill’s scenic resources in October, which will help Catskill to plan for the future, Davis said.
“We want to have sensitivity when permitting development while also protecting scenic resources,” she said. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity to have this level of expertise and not have to budget for it.”
The program, done in conjunction with the Hudson River Estuary Program, was previously offered in the municipalities of Cornwall, Beacon, Lloyd, Marlborough, Poughkeepsie, Hyde Park and Esopus.
Despite advertising the budget workshops, the board did not receive much public input, Davis said.
“We were pleased to receive input from members of the Catskill Community Center regarding its request to maintain town funding at its current level,” Davis said. “The board agreed to maintain the $100,000 level of support and will work with the center as it looks at new approaches to its structure. Other community input was minimal despite posting dates and times in the newspaper and on our website and social media pages.”
On the horizon, the Greene County Legislature will vote on its proposed budget Nov. 20.