WARRENSBURG - The Warrensburg town board members froze the pay of the town's top elected officials and cut their own pay by 16 percent as they cited the financial hardships taxpayers are enduring and the need to keep taxes as low as possible.
The moves, which save a total of $10,000 annually, were taken Monday amid emotionally-charged discussion as the board crafted a preliminary 2010 budget.
The salary to serve on town council was reduced from $5,300 to $4,444 per year.
The board decided to eliminate a planned 3.5 percent raise for the town Highway Superintendent, two town justices, and the Town Clerk. The town Water Superintendent and Public Works chief, Rick Galusha, voluntarily gave up his planned 3.5 percent raise after seeing the cuts proposed for the elected officials.
Town Supervisor Kevin Geraghty voted along with the other board members to abolish his own planned 2.5 percent raise .
"I'm going to come in here and work every day regardless of how much I'm paid," Geraghty said.
A similar freeze to the salaries of the town Assessor and Code Enforcement Officer - proposed at the meeting - were shelved because the board members said they were recent hires and they'd recently undergone considerable training and \\would be costly to replace.
Town Clerk Donna Combs, who works well over 40 hours weekly for her salary, said she'd likely be trimming some office hours in light of the pay freeze. She objected to how board members Dean Ackley and Austin Markey had waited late in the budget-forming process to propose the cuts. Several board members accused the two of pandering to voters during an election year, but Markey responded the cuts were merely "the right thing to do" considering the economic climate. Ackley said he'd proposed pay freezes for years.
Combs noted that the board members were not only paid cash for their official work of several hours per month, but received health insurance coverage worth $4,800 to $13,924 per year, which equated to $532 to over $1,000 per hour, she said. Officials said those health benefits extend - for council members serving more than ten years - for a lifetime.
The town board made other cuts Monday totalling $38,572 to a tentative budget that called for $1.13 million to be raised by taxes. The new cuts are expected to slash or eliminate a 4-cent increase in the $3.40 per thousand of assessed valuation charged in 2009.
The 2010 budget calls for a slight decrease in general fund appropriations and a 3 percent increase in the town's highway budget, primarily due to a 3.5 percent increase to eight town highway workers' pay, boosted health insurance costs, and increased payments into the state-run workers' retirement system. The workers' pay increase, mandated by a union contract signed last year, brings their average pay up to $42,375.
Formulation of a preliminary budget, which will then go to public hearing, must occur by by Nov. 5 under state law, which calls for a final budget to be approved by Dec. 15, officials said.
The main factor in the highway department budget increase, Town Supervisor Geraghty said, is a 3.5 percent increase in wages of eight highway department employees, mandated by a union contract signed last year. The average annual earnings of a highway employee is $42,375, he said.
A projected 40 percent increase this year in pension contributions for the employees at a rate mandated by the state, was reduced to about 30 percent because of a new forecast released this week by state officials.
The board also eliminated the $3,500 funding for the town's summer concert series, at the suggestion of councilman Austin Markey. He said the expense was too high, considering that only 20 people or so on the average attended the concerts.
The board abolished the funding, and decided to advertise weekly "open mike" events and see if talented singers and musicians signed up to perform for free.
Town Board members John Alexander and Joe Barlow, however, defended the concerts.
"I'd like to see them come back," he said, noting they were a pleasant feature of the town, contributing to its ambiance. "While not many people attend, when tourists drive through on Wednesday evenings, they roll their windows down and think 'Warrensburg's got something!'"
The board's budget cuts included reducing the number of teenagers supervising the town summer recreation program, reducing the staff from about 20 to 15.
Town board seeks further spending cuts
One proposed budget cut may save the town more money. Geraghty suggested the board should consider reducing the cost of town employees' health care benefits by increasing their co-pay for medical visits from $25 to $35.
This increase would save a full 4 percent of the projected annual $458,000 cost of the employees' health care benefits, or about $18,000, he said.
Geraghty said the town would make up the $10 difference for every co-pay expense any employee incurred, and the cost of these "make-up" payments would be a few thousand dollars at most.