Roxbury passes 2013 budget with nominal increases

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By Trish Adams
The Roxbury Town Board adopted a budget for 2013 at its Thursday night meeting, after brief hearings to allow the public to weigh in on the budget and a local law that would permit the board to override the two percent tax cap imposed by the state last year.

Some in the audience did question why the board would adopt the tax cap override if the budget was not going up by even two percent. The town’s attorney, Kevin Young, explained he is advising towns to take the step pro-actively, since if there were any reason to need to appropriate funds, they could not pass the override retroactively and many towns like Roxbury don’t know for sure how much revenue they’ll receive from other sources, like the state. As towns seeks to cut expenses wherever possible, in a few years the two percent limit is going to grow increasingly unfeasible to meet.

“Cost of living increases alone are three to four percent, and retirement and insurance costs go up
every year,” said Town Councilman Allen Hinkley, “Eventually, it’s going to catch up to us.”
At the hearing on the proposed budget, an unusual line increase (from $2,700 to $13,000) for cemeteries was questioned, and Attorney Young explained what is happening economically to private cemetery associations, like the ones that take care of most of our local cemeteries. “These associations have an endowment and use the interest earnings from the endowment for annual upkeep. Now that interest rates are at historic lows, they don’t have sufficient earnings, and these associations are prohibited by law from touching the endowment itself,” Young explained, adding, “They could actually go to jail if they dip into the original endowment.” 

Innovations
So, rather than have the town take over the cemetery at far greater cost, the town is helping with maintenance this year on the Roxbury Cemetery, right on Main Street, at the north end of the hamlet. Previously, the town only maintained a much smaller cemetery beside the Grand Gorge Methodist Church. The upkeep is mostly for mowing costs and the Roxbury Cemetery is more than nine acres, thus the anticipated leap in costs for the year.

In other issues affecting the budget, the highway department and the town board agreed to pull $60,000 in requested funds (for a small truck) out of this year’s budget. Highway Superintendent Steve Schuman reported that some of the equipment is aging out and it’s getting harder, and more expensive, to find repair parts for the older machines.

Town Councilman Gene Cronk raised his objection to a $5,000 budget line for a updated radio for the constable’s car, maintaining that since it could not provide printouts, it wasn’t necessary. Councilman Hinkley disagreed, saying that the state wanted Constable Williamson to have it, because it allowed him to transmit data directly to Albany, just as other law enforcement officers do. (It remained in the adopted budget.)

Modest increases
All told, once the budget was accepted, increases in most departments didn’t even approach one percent. Salaries for the elected officials were: Councilmen (4): $4,532 each; Justice (2): $7,700 each; Supervisor, $14,150; Tax Collector $9,225; Town Clerk, $39,032; Highway Superintendent, $51,727. Supervisor Hynes had asked that his salary remain flat, with no COLA increase.

In other business, the town passed a law that will switch the water billing system from unmetered to metered, so charges will be based on actual usage. Meters are already installed and ready to go. Building Inspector Bill Walcutt said things are finally picking up a little with some new construction, and asked to meet with the board in executive session to discuss some distressed properties in town.

Supervisor Hynes reported that the town-wide revaluation process is on schedule. “It’s on schedule or ahead. They’re not lagging,” he said. Hynes also reported that Randall Kelly had suggested that the town might benefit from a Forest Management Plan for the acreage around the town spring on Vega Mountain. The town would not have to pay for the plan, but if clearing some timber was recommended for the health of the stand, the town could sell that lumber. The town is also still awaiting a small portion of its share of FEMA money. 

Tree questions
Ed Dalski asked Highway Superintendent Steve Schuman if instead of just downing damaged trees after storms, they could also buck up the trees into 12 inch to 16 inch logs “as a gesture of goodwill,” for people to cart away as firewood. Schuman noted that a lot of homeowners already do this and “I have to be careful how much highway department time we put on the clock doing this. There’s a lot of work to do already.”

Hynes also met with the planning board and learned that there is still work to be done on the town’s comprehensive plan draft, which likely will not be ready for review until after the New Year. The next Roxbury Town Board meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 9 at the town hall.