Earlier this year the Town of Clarkstown presented its Capital Spending Plans for the next five years. On Tuesday, June 28, 2016 the Town Board held a workshop meeting during which presentations were given on the Town’s 2015 audit results and the Multi-Year Financial Plan for the next five years. At the onset of the latter presentation, Supervisor Hoehmann stated the figures to be presented would show the Town faces some serious financial challenges.
The numbers presented indeed backed up that statement, as the Town faces an estimated $1.5 million dollar gap between estimated revenue and expenditures for 2017 even after factoring in the numerous cost saving measures that have been enacted since Supervisor Hoehmann took office. At the end of the Gromack administration annual raises for the next five years were provided to the CSEA which have clearly placed substantial stress on the budget. The PBA contract for the police department, one of the biggest singe expense items, comes up for renegotiation next year.
When asked if he could speak about how this deficit might be tackled outside of raising taxes, Hoehmann indicated that any and all avenues would be explored. He mentioned that various studies are underway, such as the one in the police department, with the need to find significant savings in mind. Further reductions in salaries, refinancing current debt at better rates, bonding less debt going forward, and contracting services at lower costs would all be areas of focus as budget planning begins sometime in July.
With most of the savings Hoehmann has been able to achieve thus far such as those in the Supervisor’s and Town Attorney’s offices already factored in to the projected numbers, it is frightening to think what the next tax increase might have been had voters not mandated a new era of fiscal responsibility.
The Town Board will have its work cut out for them to close that deficit. Senior citizens received no increase in their Social Security payments last year and the increase they will receive in 2017 amounts to the paltry amount of $2 for every $1000 of benefits received. It will be hard to argue that senior citizens should continue to bear the brunt of the present CSEA contract or a more expensive PBA contract given the five year projection for the next five years is for vanishly small increases in the benefits projected to be received by seniors. Further, the town’s reserve fund is at such a low level, having been tapped out by the previous administration to hide profligate spending, that Hoehmann and his fellow board members have few choices – they must either reduce expenditures or raise taxes.
Raising taxes by any significant amount will be met with anger at the polls but at the very least the steps taken toward transparency and the Supervisor’s willingness to acknowledge the challenges ahead rather than attempt to cover them up provides hope that we are finally headed toward real reform in Clarkstown.
There will be difficult decisions to be made in the coming months. The first will come with the police contract. Then the consequences of the CSEA contract already locked in place for the next five years will have to be addressed.