Middletown set for vote on budget that is within cap

By Geoff Samuels
While Delaware County grapples with a roughly five percent surge in its upcoming budget, the Town of Middletown is striving to pare its own expenditures in an effort to stay at or below the state mandated two percent limit on property tax increases.

At last Thursdays’ town board workshop, Supervisor Marjorie Miller remarked that the preliminary town budget for 2013 contained several potential windfalls, mainly in the form of a $54,450 savings that would be accrued from a switch in health care providers and a reduction of $10,000 in interest payments on the reduced principal of the Arkville Water District bond.

Another savings could come from a $10,000 cut in machinery equipment for the highway department, which would bring the budget under the calculated two percent tax cap. Referring to Highway Superintendent John Biruk, Miller explained, “I basically gave John everything he asked for…this is one way to have a cut that’s substantial, but doesn’t take away from his ability to get the needed equipment that he wants this year.”

Noting that these types of cost reductions would probably not be achievable next year, both Miller and Deputy Supervisor Mike Finberg stressed that they should be taken advantage of while they are available.

How low should we go?
At the previous months’ board meeting, Assistant to the Supervisor Beth Bush had calculated that Middletown’s’ tax cap of two percent would actually equal 2.6 percent when various provisions in state law were accounted for.

Board member Jake Rosa was adamant that this years’ tax increase should be kept right at the actual two percent. Noting that “times are tough,” he cited several more items that could be cut such as the newly created budget director and deputy budget director, the $500 allotted for celebrations and the $500 for a County Rating System (CRS) coordinator.

“That’s three grand that could be saved right there” he said. Rosa also brought up the idea of lowering the MARK Project payment from $5,000 to $3,000, but both Miller and Finberg responded saying that the return from MARK would far outweigh the cost in terms of future economic development.

Miller summed up her thoughts on the budget saying, “I feel that we have negotiated in good faith…this is a realistic budget that was put forth.” These issues and others will be the subject of a final vote on the budget at the next board meeting to be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at the Middletown Town Hall.

GOP challenge
During the time allotted for public comment, Chuck Freas, chairman of the Town of Middletown Republican Committee made note of the fact that in four separate sections of the preliminary budget, there are increases for both health and retirement benefits amounting to between five and 11.6 percent on a yearly basis. “Every year we seem to be increasing our union benefits by large percentages” said Freas adding, “Is there any reason why we can’t approach the unions and explain to them that their employees need to pick up a little more share of what is now a very generous contribution by the town?”

Miller replied that retirement contributions were set by the state explaining, “We have nothing to do with that in terms of input; we can’t change what is handed down to us.” Finberg then asked assistant Beth Bush how much those figures actually went up to which she replied “quite a bit.”

No free lunches
Former Middletown Supervisor Len Utter, after recounting some of the extreme economic circumstances that the town had been through over the past years said “I think the budget that you have in place is livable and doable….My father told me when I was a young boy; if you want something and you have something, you’ve got to pay for it. There are no free lunches.”