Budget Process Stirs Town Drama

Town Supervisor Tony Hokanson has received criticism for alleged errors she made during the budgeting process.

With the recent presentation of the tentative budget in the first stage of the town’s budget process, Town of New Paltz Supervisor Toni Hokanson has received criticism from other public officials in terms of her accuracy, work ethic and what many consider to be high tax increases.

Just weeks ago, Village of New Paltz Mayor Terry Dungan sent out a self-written press release expressing concern over the increase in the property tax and pointing out a “disturbing” error Hokanson had made in the cover letter.

“In my budget memo, what I said was that the increase for the tax rate for residents outside the village is 1.02 percent,” Hokanson said. “What I meant to say was that the tax rate changes $1.02, not 1.02 percent.”

According to Hokanson, the error was made solely in the cover letter, and nowhere else in the actual budget. The actual proposed tax rate increase for village property owners is 18.25 percent. The dollar figure represents the amount per thousand dollars of assessed evaluation on the median value of New Paltz homes.

Those like Dungan feel the property tax increase is too steep.

“The taxpaying increase is extremely large, much larger than the supervisor had stated,” Dungan said. “Personally, I think that with the way things are right now, any tax increase is a mistake, period.”

Town Board Member Jeff Logan agreed with Dungan. He feels the town board has a duty to maintain affordable property taxes, and that additional cuts need to be made in order to achieve a “flat budget.”

Logan, who Hokanson claimed had “bullied” her at a town board meeting, also took issue with the fact that Hokanson had handed in her budget a day after the deadline of a state-mandated budget process schedule.

“It wasn’t bullying, it was that the supervisor missed the deadline and then continued to miss the deadline, and we did not get all the worksheets,” Logan said. “The longer I, the board and the community members don’t have the budget information, the harder it is for us to make decisions. The worst decision-making is when we don’t have information.”

Hokanson admitted she had handed the budget in late, but pointed out that the governor hands in the budget late every year. She claimed this year’s budget was especially hard given the contractual obligations the town is required to meet and the increases in insurance rates.

Town Board Member Kitty Brown agreed with Hokanson that this year’s budget is difficult, and said the board would have some “very hard choices to make.”

“The reality is that the majority of our town budget is contractual in nature, which means that we have contracts with union employees,” Brown said. “So, the most significant [expense] is the police force.”

Logan has suggested that some of the recreation projects the town had planned be put on hold in order to prevent tax increases.

While Hokanson has taken action to correct her mistake and her missing of the deadline, she feels the press release Dungan wrote was not a “humanistic” way of addressing a mistake and felt the incident was blown out of proportion.

“I’m also not surprised that the mayor is critical. He spends more time criticizing me and scrutinizing everything I do than he does doing his own job,” said Hokanson. “And if I was not a public official, I would be filing for harassment from the mayor. But I can’t. He can say whatever he wants about me, he can write as many letters to the paper that he wants about me, and there’s nothing I can do.”

For some SUNY New Paltz student representatives, the exchanges between Dungan and Hokanson have displayed a relationship that they would like to avoid having with one another.

“That seems like a personal attack,” Student Association President Jennifer Sanchez said of Dungan’s press release. “I would never, ever go to the Oracle first if [a fellow E-board member] made a mistake. That’s not the way we work as an E-board.”

Sanchez and SA Executive Vice President Eve Stern said that public figures need to be strong-headed and can’t take things personally.

Hokanson seems to feel similarly.

“I have thick skin. Other people would’ve given up a long time ago. I don’t give up so easy,” Hokanson said. “The only thing that I can do is come to work everyday and put in a hard day’s work, make sure the taxpayers get their money’s worth from me and do the best job I can.”