Dan Hust | Democrat
GARY PUTTER, LEFT, owner of Sureway Taxi, has an exchange with Village of Monticello Trustee TC Hutchins, third from left, about the delay in the decision to get granted five more medallions from the village. Trustee Scott Schoonmaker listens. Putter and Yellow Cab owner Alan Kesten also sought a fare increase in light of rising gas costs.
No tax hike in Monticello seen
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Village officials were proud to announce Monday that Monticello’s $11,068,557 tentative budget features nary a cent in tax increases.
Nor are there increases in the water and sewer rates. In fact, the sewer assessment rate is declining by 11 cents from 66 cents per thousand to 55 cents per thousand.
Village trustees have yet to approve the budget at least one extended discussion about it is planned between now and the slated adoption date of July 7.
But the public hearing at Monday’s village board meeting garnered just a few words from resident Betty Friedland, who urged the board to evaluate each non-union employee to ensure their performance is worthy of the budgeted 3.5 percent individual wage increase (4 percent for police officers).
Since the trustees are considered village employees, they too are getting salary raises, from $6,180 this year to $6,396 in the upcoming fiscal year. Mayor Gordon Jenkins currently receives $9,270 and will get $9,594 a year if the new budget is approved as is.
Retiring Treasurer Brenda Galligan, County Treasurer Ira Cohen and former Village Manager Ray Nargizian were thanked for their efforts that led to the zero-tax-increase budget, including Cohen and Nargizian’s patiently wrought county-village agreement that ensured the county collects village taxes when foreclosed properties are bought.
New attorney hired
Well-known area lawyer Jacob Billig was unanimously hired by the board that evening, based on a recommendation by Mayor Jenkins.
To be paid $40,000 a year (which is budgeted for 2008-2009), Billig will replace Karen Alt and William Frank, who resigned last month after their workload exceeded expectations.
Taxing taxi matters
The public comment sessions before and after Monday’s meeting were dominated by concerns aired by Gary Putter, owner of Sureway Taxi.
His first issue found support with competitor Alan Kesten, owner of Yellow Cab. Though Putter made a stronger case for it than Kesten, both businessmen agreed it’s time for the village to permit a fare increase.
Fares start at $6.00 per ride, having last been increased by 50 cents earlier this year when gas was at $3.30 a gallon. It’s now passing the $4 mark, and Putter was advocating for another 50-cent increase.
“The rates I’m able to charge in the village is not cutting it,” Putter remarked. “I’ve already raised my out-of-town fares.”
“The cost of gasoline is the cost of doing business,” explained Kesten. “In order for taxis to continue doing business, there has to be an equalization at the appropriate time.”
Trustee Victor Marinello said he understood their concerns, “but let me ask you,” he said to Putter, “where does it stop?”
Putter was blunt: he’ll probably be back in a few months to ask for another fare hike.
“Things are certainly not going down,” he said of gas prices.
“Unfortunately, nobody has any idea where it’s going to stop,” seconded Kesten.
“Everyone who drives is feeling the pinch,” replied Trustee Scott Schoonmaker.
“What should we do? Close?” Putter shot back.
That possibility distinctly presented itself later in the meeting, when Putter again asked the board to grant him five more medallions.
Sureway currently possesses five, allowing it to have five taxis on Monticello roads at any given time. Yellow Cab has 16, and Kesten has argued against the need to grant more to Putter.
The matter has remained unresolved for nearly a year. On Monday, however, Putter said his patience has run out.
“I put my business plans on hold for what I figured was an allowable time for government to work,” he related to the board.
Those plans included building a new headquarters within the village and adding 15 employees, increasing the hundreds of thousands of dollars Putter said he already spends in Monticello.
But instead of being welcomed, Putter said he’s “been led around by the nose and told things that were not true.”
He placed much of the blame on the board.
“The only thing stopping me is inaction by this board,” Putter remarked. “I would like to be a taxpayer in this community. . . . Why won’t you let me?”
So he issued a warning to the board: “If I can’t come to a resolution of this problem by the end of the summer, Sureway will move its base of operations [away from the village].”
In addition, Putter said he’d make every effort not to spend a cent in Monticello.
“I will instruct my drivers not even to buy a bagel in the village,” he told the board.
Schoonmaker and Jenkins were unmoved. In fact, Schoonmaker worried that five more medallions meant Putter would have even more justification to push for higher fares.
“I feel like you’re holding us hostage here,” Schoonmaker told Putter.
“I’m tired of hearing it. . . . We’ve been going over this for two years now,” said Jenkins. “Listen, put three medallions out there, and whoever bids [the highest] for it, gets it.”
Marinello agreed but pushed for the full five to be put out to bid. Angry that Putter was threatening the village with a pullout, he added that Putter’s current operations center “looks like a garbage dump.”
Trustee TC Hutchins didn’t even believe Putter’s claim that he is losing money over the lack of more medallions.
“You’re here because you’re making money,” Hutchins said to Putter.
Despite the angry words, the matter was left to smolder for at least another two weeks, with the board taking no action.