Roxbury wrestles with tax cap in wake of mounting flood costs

By Pauline Liu
Roxbury residents will have a chance to voice their opinions about the state’s new two percent property tax cap and the town’s 2012 budget at a public hearing to be held at town hall on Thursday, Nov. 10 beginning at 6:45 p.m. 

The event was announced at the regularly scheduled town board meeting on Monday night. Town Clerk Diane Pickett has already prepared the tentative budget and she will present it to the town board at a budget workshop scheduled for next Monday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m.

Faced with the high costs of repairing flood damage, town officials want to discuss overriding the property tax cap with the passage of a local law. When the tax cap was passed four months ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo championed it as tax relief. It is scheduled to take effect in 2012. The tax cap limits local governments to a two percent property tax levy increase or the rate of inflation, which ever is lower.

“Keeping tax increases within the two percent cap will be difficult because of the flooding and we still haven’t heard anything from FEMA yet,” said Town Supervisor Tom Hynes. Local governments across the state are now discussing opting out of the state-imposed tax cap.

As for next year’s budget, Pickett explains there are no surprises.   “Everything is basically the same, except for one piece of equipment for the highway department and the town board members will have to decide whether they want to keep it in the budget or whether they’ll need a bond to pay for it,” said Pickett. When asked to elaborate about the potential purchase, Pickett explained that Highway Superintendent Steve Schuman would like the town to purchase a new dump truck, plow and sander, with a total cost of $233,800.

Supervisor Hynes discussed the flood repair costs to date. “So far, this flood has cost us $425,000 and most of that is for stream damage!” he said. There was extensive damage to Vega Mountain Road. “It cost over $20,000 to blacktop the first 330 feet of that road, after the stream came out over the banks and washed the blacktop away, “ said Schuman. He explained that highway crews collected more than 200 truckloads of creek gravel and saved taxpayers money by using much of it to replace much of the stream bank along Vega Mountain Road that was washed away by the flood.
Repairs still need to be made to the collapsed bridge on Shepard Lane, which is located past the Roxbury Motel extension as well as the portion of Cold Spring Road near Stratton Falls.

Superintendent Schuman explained that engineering studies were made by Greenman-Pedersen, Inc. of Albany and Keystone Associates in Binghamton and the projects will be put out to bid. Individual DEC permits will be needed for each project.

Flood damaged culverts were replaced.  Schuman said a four-foot culvert was replaced on Vega Mountain Road by Jeff Haskin’s home and a six-foot culvert was replaced on South Montgomery Hollow Road near Peter Littman’s home. Schumann explained a plan to resurface George Lawrence Road with item four stone aggregate is being put off until next year.

The town board also approved the hiring of Corbin Bouton to a full-time position on the highway department. He replaces Leonard Hults, a highway department driver who went on disability, after about 10 years of employment.

“He’s been on the job for a week now,” said Schumann. “If you just point out the work, then he does it and it gets done.”

In other news, Supervisor Hynes announced that the town board accepted the resignation of Assessor Kim Cammer as a town employee. The town board agreed to allow Cammer to work as an independent contractor and sole assessor for the remainder of the year. She will work two days per week and receive payment of $1,800 per month with no benefits.

Cammer, who could not be reached for comment, did not attend the meeting and has not publicly given a reason for her resignation.  Her new office hours have not been specified, but Roxbury’s search for a new sole assessor has been posted on the homepage of the town’s website.

The town board has accepted a fuel bid from Bottini Fuel at a fixed price of $3.045.

“What was the price?” asked resident Ed Dalski, who was among a handful of people in the audience. “That’s a good price,” he said approvingly, after he received his answer.

Town Board Member Allen Hinkley raised the issue winding down flood relief efforts at the Grand Gorge Civic Center. The gymnasium is filled with donated clothing as well as some canned goods. It’s been staffed daily by volunteers.

“There’s not a lot of traffic there right now, but people are manning it all the time,” said Hinkley. “Maybe it can remain open one day a week and groups like the Community Action Group and churches can take turns.” The board thanked the volunteers, including Toni Osborne of Roxbury. “I felt I needed to do it for anybody and I say my prayers for them,” said Osborne.