With no village treasurer and a deputy treasurer out on maternity leave, it fell to Walden Village manager John Revella to sharpen his pencil last week for the adoption of the 2022-23 budget.
The budget was adopted last Wednesday, three days before the state deadline and following a five-minute budget hearing.
At the hearing, former Village Trustee Mary Ellen Matise again asked the village board to set aside some funds for ambulance service. The village has no provision for ambulance service that is currently funded through the Town of Montgomery’s General (A) fund. That line will disappear in January, when the Town of Montgomery Ambulance District is created. Since Walden has not opted to join the Villages of Maybrook and Montgomery and the town in the district, there are no provisions for paying for ambulance service beginning in January, the midpoint of the village’s fiscal year.
“Where’s the emergency management plan?” Matise asked.
Revella assured her that the village does indeed have an emergency management plan on file with the Orange County Emergency Management office. It is not, however, available for public viewing.
With the proposed budget under the state’s tax cap by $45,000, several trustees suggested allocating that amount for a reserve fund that could be used for ambulance protection if needed. That raised the tax increase to the 3.21 percent limit. The board unanimously agreed to add $45,000 to a reserve or contingency fund that already had $5,000 in it. If it is not used, the board can declare it surplus next year.
But the board was not done cutting. Many village employees had sought, and were due to receive pay raises. Trustees wanted another look at them.
“I understand everything discussed under parity. I get it,” said Trustee Lynn Thompson, who expressed concern about quickly bringing everyone up to parity. ‘These are really big numbers. These are huge, huge raises.’
Trustee Brian Sebring agreed that some raises were too much and too fast.
“I believe the (police) chief was promised a pay raise when he passed his probation time. I have no problem given him what he wanted, if that was promised. All the other pay raises are excessive.”
Police Chief William R. Herlihy was due to receive a pay increase from $127,00 to $140,000.(He is also due to collect $32,000 from the Village of Montgomery, where he served as part-time police chief).
Other proposed raises were seen as excessive. The proposed budget submitted by Revella called for raises of 20 percent for the village clerk, 25 percent for the Department of Public Works Superintendent and 12 percent for the building inspector. Other employees, who had not requested raises, were due to receive a two-percent pay increase.
“I believe in retention,” said Mayor John Ramos, defending the raises. “The only way you are going to retain employees is to provide them with safe, working equipment, provide them with harmonious working environment and you have to take care of them them with their pay.”
Ramos suggested that paying higher wages would ensure retention.
“We have about 65 employees here in the village,” Ramos said. “We need to keep them, and we need to take care of them.”
Thompson was not convinced.
“The practice of department heads going to the village manager and discussing what they fee should be their raise, I think that needs to change,” Thompson said. “Yearly evaluations are done for a reason, and a dutiful, well-performing employees deserves a certain type of raise, as opposed to an employee who is perhaps having some issues. And despite what we end up deciding on these raises, I think we’re to a point right now where the village manager should be evaluating each department head and he should be coming to the board to say this is the type of raise he feels is within reason and I still believe that we are in this place where we right now because of event that happened previously and now we are at a place where we need to correct that. And I understand what all of you are saying, but I think about people that I know in public service, private service. These are huge raises, and I get you want to bring em up. I get it but really, we need to give this giveaway all at one time. There’s no negotiating on any different percentages. Nothing. Is that what I’m hearing?”
Revella said some of them are large percentages, but the dollar amounts for most of them are small.
“Not all of them are asking for 20 or 25 percent raises,” Revella said.
Sebring suggested a split raise for the village clerk: eight percent now, eight percent in six months. It failed by a 5-2 vote. He next suggested a 10 percent raise across the board for all non-union employees.
Revella reminded him that some employees, including himself, were only due to receive a two percent increase. Plus, he said, it would actually increase the budget and exceed the tax cap.
Thompson then offered a motion proposing a 50 percent reduction in all line items requesting a percentage raise. After further discussion, the motion was withdrawn.
Finally it was decided to go line-by-line, beginning with the deputy village treasurer, who was due to receive a 12 percent increase, from $46,102 to $51,102. The board voted 5-2 to reduce the raise to 6 percent ($48,868) with Ramos and Patricia Maher voting no. Deputy Mayor Willie Carley had left the meeting by this time.
By the same 5-2 vote, the village clerk will now receive a 10 percent raise instead of 20 percent. She is currently making $57,691.
By the same 5-2 vote, the building inspector’s proposed raise was lowered from 12 to 10 percent and that of the DPW superintendent was reduced from 25 percent to 13 percent. It was later agreed to give him an additional $1,000 for each of his three professional licenses.