Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed talked about the new budget with some visual aids at an Oct. 26 special meeting.
The Johnsburg town budget, now preliminary with a 1.98 percent levy increase, got a few new ideas from Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed, and more criticism from Councilman Gene Arsenault.
Arsenault’s proposal to move funds from Johnsburg’s highway department for other spending has received its own criticism from Goodspeed and Highway Superintendent Dan Hitchcock.
Though critical, discussion is exactly the point, said Arsenault. While times are tough in New York state, Johnsburg has new opportunities with promotion for and ridership on the new train service and accelerating development at the FrontStreet resort, Arsenault said.
Business community members are working hard to incorporate activity at the town’s attractions in their promotions, and the town should be part of that, said Arsenault.
How the town gets involved or where the money comes from is still open for discussion, he said.
“It wasn’t my intent to say here’s the proposal, take it or leave it,” said Arsenault.
There are options, but they need to be explored and discussed, said Arsenault. The town budget is an economic road map for the coming year, and if there isn’t a line in the budget for an initiative or project, there’s not much use talking about it with no resources fueling the discussion, said Arsenault. The budget should reflect that economic development is a priority for the town.
As you move some of these monies around, it does involve risk. To make sure the citizens of Johnsburg are on board with risky or boilerplate budget decisions, Arsenault would like to see the town adopt Vermont-style town meetings. Future budget talks could start in late spring or early summer to seek more input and discuss priorities before it’s crunch time.
He and other town board members are pursuing the option to break the tax cap, an initiative Goodspeed opposed in a town board vote. Arsenault and fellow Councilman Ron Vanselow say they’re not in favor of breaking the tax cap, but they want to ensure the option is there if they need it.
The town’s highway department, led by Superintendent Dan Hitchcock, saved a good deal of money in its last budget cycle with $290,411.45 unexpended for 2010.
Hitchcock has felt his department’s under fire from the town board at a time when he’s dealt with back-to-back natural disasters and needs to replace aging equipment.
No raises for Hitchock after his efforts to save so much money while improving roads is shameful, Arsenault said.
“It’s a sign of the times,” Goodspeed countered.
Goodspeed said he’s dealing with angry town employees who only sit a few feet from him at town hall.
Hitchcock said he’s cut overtime and two positions with the understanding that unexpended funds would stay with his department for new equipment.
Hitchock has saved money with a new machine to mix road-making materials that takes half the time and half the crew to operate. He’s tightened up crew hours in winter, reducing overtime.
He said that keeping his older highway equipment alive is becoming more challenging as it ages. Parts are often unavailable from the manufacturer, and equipment can sit unused for weeks if a replacement is hard to find.
Before the storms this year, the department had enough funds to replace a 20-year-old loader and a 27-year-old tractor. Most of that had to go back to the roads this year following rain damage.
A cost-saving measure to repair North Creek’s craggy sidewalks is being pursued by the highway department. Hitchcock’s looking at sweat equity with county highway to help fund sidewalk repairs in North Creek, where Main Street is a county road, said Goodspeed.
“When it’s tough times, you should circle the wagons around essential services,” Goodspeed said.
Highway is one of those essentials. People need to get to and from work and visit loved ones with limited mobility; school buses need to pick up kids.
The highway budget gets a $5,000 summer and $5,000 winter increase, with another $30,000 earmarked for new equipment.
A problem began in the highway department in 1995, when a large fire destroyed much of the department's equipment. The machines have aged at the same rate, meaning they need big repairs and replacements at the same time. Goodspeed said new purchases should be staggered so the highway fleet doesn’t have that problem again.
Emergency Medical Services are another essential. The EMS squad had to take over ownership of the service vehicles recently. The title to the fleet was held by the town, at a favorable interest rate paid for by the town. Switching over to owning their vehicles made the squad take a nearly $15,000 hit, said Goodspeed. He’s allocated a $5,000 bump to help, “as an acknowledgement of their services.”
The fire department, in the midst of contract negotiations with the town, will see an increase in the coming year and a shift of some funding from the North Creek district to the five-hamlet Johnsburg district.
He’s also made a town revaluation a priority, with a town bookkeeping position going to part time so another part-time position can open in the assessor’s office. That office will also get a $5,000 budget bump for the reval effort.
Goodspeed is opposed to touching the highway FEMA funds, and anti-borrowing. Only borrowing proposals with specific dollar amounts for specific projects should be considered, he said. Getting the town out of debt during his tenure as supervisor is an accomplishment Goodspeed would like to see stand.
Goodspeed also said he wants to make sure the shuttle can grow. People criticize the spending, and say it focuses too much on tourists, but Goodspeed said “those tourist dollars are what help fund this budget.”
Local employees are beginning to use the shuttle to get to work, and Goodpseed wants the town to cooperate with the Business Alliance to make the shuttle useful to all.
A common complaint at town board meetings this summer was the poor condition of cemetery lawns in town. Cemeteries and building maintenance saw a slight increase in the budget.
Goodspeed said he’d like to find ways to work with other organizations to reduce the costs of building upkeep and improve the appearance. The cooperation of the town and the Olympic Regional Development Authority keep the Ski Bowl Pavilion in great shape at little or no cost to the town.
There is $57,800 in unexpended funds in the budget, but Goodspeed said it’s earmarked as matching funds for Ski Bowl Park grants. He’d like to split the matching funds in half, and return the full award in the next budget cycle to free up some funds this year.
The town will save some money on employee health insurance because the town is not allowed to pay employees’ deductibles in full. Half must be paid by the employee.
Sales tax revenues increased nearly 12 percent, and that’s another possible revenue source in the budget, said Goodspeed.
He wants to keep the depot museum open in the wintertime. He already reduced funding for the museum’s budget, and said he’d see if the Depot Association could cooperate with the Business Alliance to find a way.
There are problems at the state, county and town levels, Goodspeed said. It all comes downhill, and at the bottom is a little old lady who’s lived in her house forever. More natural or economic disasters could make even his spartan budget too generous.
“Every budget is a prediction,” he said.
The town board will hold a public hearing on the budget Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Wevertown community center, followed by a hearing on breaking the tax cap.