Less than two hours after it began, a sparsely attended November 8 public hearing on the municipal budget ended with the Woodstock Town Board’s adoption of the approximately $6.4 million spending plan for 2013, which will raise taxes by 0.33 percent.
With councilman Jay Wenk absent due to illness, the board unanimously approved the budget, which comfortably complies with the state-mandated cap of 2 percent on tax increases. The vote for adoption was 4 to 0. The budget raises general fund expenditures by about $41,500, to a total of $4.51 million, and highway fund appropriations by approximately $62,000, to $1.95 million.
All local taxpayers contribute not only to the general and highway funds, but also to the budgets of the library and fire districts, which are formulated and adopted outside the purview of the Town Board. Voters must approve the library budget, while the fire district budget is created and adopted solely by the elected Board of Fire Commissioners (BFC).
The townwide levy — taxation for the general and highway funds, the library budget, and the fire district budget — will increase by 0.92 percent in 2013. The library budget, which voters approved in September, carries a tax increase of 2 percent. The BFC on October 16 adopted a budget that raises taxes by 2.98 percent but nevertheless meets the terms off the statewide tax cap, according to fire district officials.
The overall municipal spending plan also includes the budgets of the so-called special districts — water, hamlet sewer, on-site sewer, lighting, and garden lighting — which are funded only by taxpayers who receive their services. When these districts are included in the total town budget, the tax increase amounts to 0.69 percent.
The public hearing attracted fewer than a dozen residents. The Town Board, with all members present, revisited budget-related and other fiscal matters at its regularly scheduled meeting on November 13. Following are highlights of the board’s deliberations and actions on the budget.
Retirement costs. The town’s total contribution to employee retirement benefits in the 2013 budget is nearly $600,000, most of which will be drawn from the levy for the general and highway funds. “Retirement costs are based on salaries,” Woodstock supervisor Jeremy Wilber explained by e-mail, in response to a question about how such costs might be contained. “The New York State Comptroller determines what percentage of income shall be paid to cover retirement costs. In theory, the town could reduce retirement costs either by cutting salaries (a nonstarter) or cutting personnel.” The amount that employees contribute to their own retirement depends on factors such as their income, their length of service, and the “tier” in which they are enrolled under the state retirement system, Wilber observed.
Employee compensation. The town’s work force comprises about 65 union and nonunion employees, including nonunion elected officials and other employees; members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union; and employees of the Police Department, who are represented by another union. In 2013 all employees will receive a two-stage pay raise, with increases of 1.5 percent taking effect on January 1 and again on July 1. Over the 2013 fiscal year, said Wilber, the net increase amounts to approximately 2.25 percent. A new contract covering Police Department employees has yet to be finalized. “Next summer the town and the (CWA) union will negotiate compensation for 2014, and the summer after (that) will negotiate compensation for 2015,” the supervisor explained. The Town Board approved a new collective bargaining agreement with the CWA, incorporating the pay hike for its members, at the November 13 meeting. The agreement also provides for increased contributions to health insurance coverage by newly hired employees who belong to the union. In a separate action the board approved a 2012 hourly salary increase of 1 percent to employees who complete five years of service to the town and a raise of 1.5 percent to employees who complete ten years of service. Such raises will be discontinued under the new agreement with the CWA. Instead, employees who variously complete 15, 20, 25, or 30 years of service to the town will receive a one-time payment on the anniversary of their hiring date.