The New Paltz Town Board passed the final 2011 town budget with only a 1.02 percent increase after weeks of debate over how to reach a flat budget.
Although the budget ultimately had an increase, the board was able to prevent cutting funding for the police department night dispatcher, which had been a highly contentious issue that had divided the board.
According to Town Supervisor Toni Hokanson, who had vehemently opposed cutting funding for the night dispatcher position, she made a deal with board members who were in favor of cutting the position. The board had previously voted 3-2 to remove the dispatcher’s funding from the budget, but reconsidered after Hokanson agreed to make cuts in other areas of the budget.
“My feeling was that any reduction in staff was going to be a reduction in services to the public, but at that moment when I learned that the vote was not going to change, I started saying, ‘I will give up any other personnel. What do I need to do to get this back in?’” Hokanson said. “And they said they would only take it from personnel. I would have to find personnel to cut.”
Hokanson said she was able to find $73,000 in personnel to cut from the budget. She said she made room for the dispatcher position by eliminating a seasonal field maintenance position, reducing a full-time position in the clerk’s office to a “half-time” position and by revoking an approval that was originally made to upgrade a justice court employee position from part-time to full-time.
“It may end up resulting in a reduction of hours at the justice court, but to me, having somebody be inconvenienced about when they can pay their ticket is a lot less traumatic to the community than not having a night dispatcher,” said Hokanson. “[The other board members] accepted that, and they put the dispatcher position back in. It was very stressful.”
According to board member Kitty Brown, funding cuts were also made to personnel of the Moriello pool staff and other recreation personnel. She also said Hokanson found a $20,000 error in the building and grounds line.
While Brown was among the board members who originally voted to remove funding for the night dispatcher position, she said she agreed under the condition that Hokanson found other personnel funding to cut.
“What we were looking for was redundancies and . . . [the dispatcher position] was a place where we thought we could make some savings,” Brown said. “But Toni felt so strongly that it needed to stay in place and she was willing to make cuts in other personnel lines to save that line.”
Hokanson and fellow board member David Lewis had spent a night shift with the police dispatcher. Hokanson said she felt it was imperative to keep the position.
“A reduction in [other] services is not going to be life threatening the way I believe it would be if we did not have a night dispatcher,” Hokanson said.
While she agreed the town board had settled on the 2011 budget with a short-term goal of flattening the increase for this year, she hopes to draw more businesses to New Paltz so that they can “increase the pool of money” the town has and “give a relief to the homeowners.”
Hokanson said she’s currently working on developing water and sewer plants in the town’s “light industrial zone.” In terms of next year’s budget, however, she hopes the town will not be as pressured to make cuts.
“Maybe things will be better next year financially,” said Hokanson. “That’s really what I’m banking on.”