By Katherine Donlevy
Despite the pandemic and subsequent financial shortfalls felt throughout the entire nation, the Town Board approved a Fiscal Year ’21 budget that is about $116,500 more expensive than the previous year’s at its Nov. 5 meeting.
The five-person board had spent approximately two weeks crunching the final numbers, but ultimately reached a $2,959,319.76 total allocated for the upcoming year. The previous year’s budget was only $2,852,747.52. Walter Weigand was the only board member to disapprove of the budget, favoring a tighter total than the 2020 budget.
“We have a responsibility to manage this town for everybody in the town,” Weigand said. “There are things that others outside of this room don't see as being necessary and we need to pay attention to them. It's not a financial issue … I think it's important in principle.”
While many municipalities and government offices did not see a change in their upcoming expenditure, such as the police, adult recreation and the Environmental Conservation Commission, a myriad saw dramatic increases - the Building Inspector and CEO category was allocated over $118,500. Funding within the department was shifted in a variety of ways so that the outside professional services portion was cut completely, but funding was increased significantly to pay the CEO.
The category to see the largest increase from ’20 to ’21 was the Planning Board, whose funding was raised by $51,120. The Clerk’s wages were doubled, as were allocations for engineering and planning and, most notably, monies for a consultant were increased from $6,000 to $30,000. There was also a $520 allotment for “zoom meeting fees.”
“I just don’t think it's in the interest of the town this year, not for next year, but for this year. We need to acknowledge that we’re investing at the wrong time,” Weigand stated, though he would be overruled.
Many jurisdictions saw a decrease in their funding, however, such as Animal Control by $2,050 and Youth Programs by $1,000. Various other categories also reported decreases, though many were under $1,000 threshold.
According to the budget, the Town Board expects their General Fund Reimbursement to increase for the year by over $93,400, which could offset many of the increases included in the ’21 budget. The expected highway revenue, on the other hand, is expected to drop by $15,200.
Franco Carucci, arguing against Weigand’s concerns, suggested increasing the Town of Gardiner’s budget even further. He claimed it would get the ball rolling for future budget plans, whereas compromising for a smaller budget would be a set back.
“Personally, if we wait until the economy and everything else “settles down,” which who knows may never ever happen, but even if we ever get to a point of normalcy we’ll be behind the 8-ball at that point and then we’ll have to spend to catch up,” he said. “I think doing so now, proactively, we stay in front of the pack … Line by line, I can't think of anything I would think is outrageous money to be spent. They're all things that need to be done. If it were up to me we’d go even further.”
Ultimately, the Town Board approved the budget in a 4 to 1 vote.
In other board business, Town Supervisor Marybeth Majestic approved a plan to implement a Cornell Cooperative Extension program in Gardiner. The project focuses on environmental conservation and progression toward cleaner living.
“Once we sign on - it’s no cost to the town - they come in, they clean and do all the work,” said Carucci, who also sits on the Climate Smart Gardiner committee. “They look at sustainability of the town from an environmental standpoint and provide a report at the end … They do all the work and you just kinda hangout with then and make sure, if they have anything, that we give them.”
Carucci noted that if the town works with the Cornell Cooperative that Gardiner would earn some Climate Smart Communities points from New York State, a goal the committee has been striving toward since its creation. Combined with its Community Choice Aggregation efforts, Gardiner could earn bronze level certification from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Once certified, Gardiner could become eligible for grants and state funded programming.
“I think it's a no brainer in my opinion,” Carruci said.
The Town Board unanimously agreed with Carruci and Majestic signed a letter of intent with Cornell Cooperative.