In Oct. 2011, Thurman Town Board members including Becky Hitchcock (center) work on drafting the 2012 town budget after a year of unprecedented financial pressures. Hitchcock, who died May 25, has been credited with bringing a moderate approach and cohesive influence to town politics during challenging times. Hitchcock is flanked by board members Leon Galusha (left) and Al Vasak (right).
Faced with soaring costs of town employee retirement and health care, and reconstructing roads due to flood washouts, town leaders decided to boost the tax levy by about 16 percent for 2012.
To accomplish this increase under the state’s new 2 percent tax cap maximum, the town board is now seeking to pass a local law to exempt their municipality for a year from the cap.
Monday Oct. 4, Thurman Town Supervisor Evelyn Wood presented a draft tentative budget to the board that called for a zero percent increase. The spending plan called for cutting the assessors’ pay by half, eliminating curbside municipal trash pickup, and cutting the town recreation program from six weeks to four.
The board, however, called for restoring the suggested cuts. Town board members Al Vasak, Leon Galusha and Rebecca Hitchcock expressed support for continuing the curbside collection after hearing that privatizing or discontinuing the service would mean both a far higher annual cost per household, plus it would likely prompt many to illegally dump trash around town.
“You’ll see garbage by the road and tires floating down the river,” Vasak said.
Wood praised Town Bookkeeper Lester Losaw for volunteering to take a 3 percent pay cut, reducing his annual earnings to $32,240. The board considered cutting it by two more percent, but backed off after reviewing how he had straightened out the town books after he took office, that he’d worked through his vacation this year, and that his work was vital in preparing the FEMA disaster aid applications.
“He was there when we needed him, and we still need him — it’s not right to ask him to take more of a cut,” Hitchcock said.
Austerity measures in the budget include cutting the hours at the town construction and demolition landfill to half-days Saturday and Sunday, wear-round.
The board discussed potential cuts to the local Meals on Wheels and senior bus transportation programs, but didn’t axe them.
The $1.43 million tentative budget calls for about $610,000 to be raised by taxes, and an estimated tax rate of about $3.84 per thousand of assessed valuation, up from about $3.32 per thousand in 2011.
In presenting the budget, Wood noted that the town is faced with a 31 percent increase in employees’ retirement costs, and a 20 percent increase in health care premiums.
Also, the town has suffered an estimated $7 million in damages from the Memorial Day weekend flash floods that that tore out bridges and culverts, ripped up roadways, and turned many of them into raging rivers. Most all the town’s roads were severely damaged in the flooding.
Just months later, the town endured an additional $1 million in damages due to Tropical Storm Irene.
The town has been lobbying for federal disaster aid compensation for the May washouts, but to date has not received financial help. A portion of the damages due to Irene, however, may be compensated.
In the meantime, many of the roadways have only had temporary repairs, due to lack of available funds.
The 2012 budget calls for no increase in allocation for highway appropriations.