Town Board discusses costs of emergency services
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
With little ado in a nearly empty meeting hall, the Philipstown Town Board on Nov. 16 unanimously adopted a 2018 budget of nearly $10.9 million.
The budget, which takes effect Jan. 1, anticipates collecting $7.8 million in taxes (about $200,000 more than 2017) and $1.98 million in miscellaneous revenues, with the remaining portion covered by existing balances of $1.1 million.
“We’re still under the cap” set by New York State for property tax increases, Supervisor Richard Shea said before the board’s vote. The state limits property tax increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, but allows for some variances; it also grants credits to municipalities that consistently meet the cap.
Shea’s salary for 2018 will remain at $27,000 annually and Councilors Nancy Montgomery, John Van Tassel, Michael Leonard and Robert Flaherty again will each earn $18,000. The pay for Clerk Tina Merando will rise from $63,000 to $64,250 and Highway Superintendent Carl Frisenda from $89,000 to $90,000.
The Highway Department budget will rise by 3 percent, to $3.7 million.
The amount earmarked for workers’ compensation will increase by 22 percent, to $54,939. For 2017, the town budgeted $44,860 but by Nov. 16 had already spent $54,919. In 2016, it budgeted $43,861.
Spending for fire protection will remain steady at about $1.875 million. Philipstown is served by four fire departments: North Highlands, Garrison, Cold Spring and Continental Village. For 2018, the Philipstown payment to Continental Village will be $269,150; to Cold Spring, $69,643 (for town areas just outside the villages); to Garrison, $771,302; and to North Highlands, $764,984.
Only property owners in the territory covered by a given fire department pay for its services. The Garrison and North Highlands fire districts set their own budgets, but the tax revenue is channeled through the town.
Philipstown likewise has two ambulance providers: the Philipstown Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the Garrison Volunteer Ambulance Corps. For 2018, Philipstown will receive $317,110, an increase of 17 percent, and Garrison will receive $200,429, an increase of 16 percent.
Together, fire and ambulance coverage will cost nearly $2.4 million, accounting for about 22 percent of the budget. Shea called that outlay “striking,” noting that five other Putnam County towns spend less.
Even when population and geographic differences among the six towns are factored in, “we’re way above” the others in emergency services spending, Councilor Nancy Montgomery added. She recalled that when the town undertook an evaluation, with state approval, of emergency services needs and spending, they learned that “we were in the top 5th percentile for per capita costs.” State officials “looked and said, ‘What are you doing?’ ” she said.
Board members did not take any immediate action. In 2010, when the board brought in a retired fire chief-turned-consultant to conduct a study of emergency services, the effort provoked outrage even before he recommended merging the four fire departments and two ambulance corps under one administrative umbrella.