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Callicoon leaders forego raises for 2011 budget

By Kathy Daley
JEFFERSONVILLE — November 12, 2010 — In a good faith attempt to whittle away at a 7.73 percent tax increase proposed for next year, the Town of Callicoon supervisor, town board and highway superintendent have agreed to forego salary raises in 2011.
The salary measure and other cuts allowed budget makers to come in with a tax hike of 7.1 percent, more than three percent of which is due to a spike in workers’ compensation costs for the town.
Of the $2.24 million total budget for next year, $1.67 million must be raised by taxes.
“We worked a lot of hours to get this down as low as we possibly could,” said Town Board Member Howard Fuchs.
But the cuts to next year’s budget did not dig deep enough for some speakers at a public hearing Monday night.
Resident Bruce Ferguson asked why town employees are not contributing toward the costs of their health insurance coverage.
“The average American pays $2,500 per year towards their health plan,” Ferguson said. “And I don’t think any member of the (town board) should get a dime for health insurance.”
Board members receive free health insurance coverage, at a cost to the town of $7,200 per person per year.
“That package is pretty nice,” said resident Cindy Gieger. “Most people don’t have that.”
Resident Raizi Shoop asked the board to "use their conscience" about whether to continue accepting health insurance from the town.
Supervisor Thomas Bose responded that the practice of granting health insurance coverage to part-time employees harkens back to the 1990s, when Nancy Lee was supervisor.
Bose did note that under the terms of a new highway department contract, which the board adopted for ratification Monday night, starting in 2011 all new employees will pay 25 percent of the cost of their health coverage. That requirement will hold true for new town employees in other departments as well as newly elected town board members.
Bose explained why the tax increase was relatively high compared to other years, citing a huge increase in New York State retirement system costs and the doubling of workers’ compensation self insurance from $50,000 this year to $120,000 in 2011. The increase is the result of a 2010 settlement with the widow of a volunteer firefighter who lost his life in the line of duty.
"Decreases in mortgage taxes we receive and interest earned on our money all contributed to the problem," he said.
Bose added that the town long-term would continue to look at decreasing costs.
"In the Highway Department (which represents the bulk of the budget) new methodology for re-surfacing roads was experimented with this year and will continue if found to be successful," Bose said in a prepared statement. "This will greatly help reduce paving costs compared to traditional hot asphalt. Removing some older machinery that has been costly to repair and renewing inter-municipal agreements for shared services with other towns greatly improves efficiency."
The supervisor also contended that neighboring townships were also struggling with increased costs and declining revenue. For example, the Town of Rockland proposed a 5.92 percent tax hike, in addition to their increased workers’ compensation costs.
After the public hearing, the town board officially adopted the 2011 budget.

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