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North East adopts 2011 budget

NORTH EAST — After a brief public hearing and a succinct discussion, the Town Board unanimously adopted its budget for 2011 last week.

The fiscal plan has a 3 percent tax rate, which the board agreed was as good as could be hoped for in today’s economic climate.

“To keep it at 3 percent, I think it’s really good,” Councilman Dave McGhee said. “I would rather live here than other towns. Amenia’s tax rate is going to be [extremely high]. A lot of things we can’t control and I think what we did do is very good.”

The amount to be raised by taxes, according to the 2011 budget, is $1,700,364. Residents interested in commenting on the plan had the opportunity last Thursday, Nov. 4, at the budget’s public hearing. Only one member of the public attended, Mark Liebergall, who spoke on behalf of the local artists’ community, specifically the 14th Colony Artists collaborative and the 3 Corners Contemporary Music Concert series. He requested the town sponsor the two organizations with $1,000, recognizing their contribution to the allure and character of the town.

“In six days over 1,300 people came through our gallery and town,” he said. “It gives some sense of how potent cultural tourism is for the town. This town is becoming a cultural mecca. I’m asking $1,000 be earmarked for supporting the arts.”

Town Supervisor Dave Sherman asked if Liebergall has “some sense of what the money would translate to,” in terms of the town’s investment.

“Promotion,” responded Liebergall. “Forming with other entities in town and chipping in with advertising. Right now some is covered by merchants and some is covered by artists. We believe we are bringing in a significant amount of business to town and we would like some acknowledgement from the town that it likes what we are doing. I think the town is benefiting enormously.”

“I agree with you,” Councilman Carl Stahovec said. “No doubt you can watch the change in Millerton and how much more we’re getting recognized as a nice town. We have really cut our nose off to spite our face by keeping a really bare bones budget.”

“We do have times during the year to revisit the budget and some discretionary funds,” Sherman said. “Have you also spoken with the village?”

Liebergall said he hadn’t, but that he will.

Sherman said the arts have enhanced the town and village, but could do so even more if they become more inclusive, adding perhaps dance, more music and other events for a wider range of residents.

“So you have something for everybody,” he said. “It would also be helpful to have a plan outlining how the funds will be used.”

The board did not alter its budget to include a line for investing in the arts. It changed subjects and moved on to other financial issues, like employee raises, which bottomed out at 1 percent this year.

“I just hope none of the employees are dissatisfied with the 1 percent raises, and they understand everybody’s got to grin and bare it,” Stahovec said.

“Basically everybody’s happy they’ve got a job,” McGhee said. “The county is laying people off, the state’s laying people off.”

Overall, Sherman said, despite the town’s trying to cut costs, the budget includes more than $64,000 in increases, with much of that money going toward mandated retirement and insurance costs.

By discussion’s end, McGhee moved to adopt the budget as presented. The full board voted  to do so unanimously, after which Councilman Steve Merwin said, “I’ll sleep better tonight.”

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