Conflict over Millerton contracts
NORTH EAST — The Town Board is in the midst of deciding how to handle contracts it just received from the village of Millerton for two important services that municipality usually provides — police and recreation. The dilemma is over the fact that both contracts are substantially higher than they have been in the past, and more than the town of North East is comfortable paying.“The structure [of the contracts] is pretty much the same, with the dollar amount changed,” North East town Supervisor Dave Sherman said, adding that change comes to what he considers a hefty sum. The police contract amount is to remain the same for the first year, but the two succeeding years are to have automatic increases of 3 percent minimum each year, or increases equal to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is greater. The state, meanwhile, has set a cap for municipalities limiting tax increases to 2 percent, which puts the town in a bind, according to Sherman.“It’s a substantial increase and there’s a cap that we can only increase what we collect in taxes 2 percent or less,” he said, explaining the town will then have to dip into its own savings to foot the bill. “The board was not happy about that.”The police contract tallies at $17,400 for the first year, then increases at 3 percent or the CPI (whichever is greater) for the next two years.Millerton Mayor John Scutieri said the increase, while it may sound excessive, is well founded.“The police department mainly patrols in the village, but they are assigned roads in the town,” he said. “However, all of their calls are documented, and the majority of their calls are in the town of North East, and the town and village both have to recognize the expense has to be shared by both.”The village’s total police budget this year is $96,683, and that covers a number of expenses for the part-time police department including officers’ salaries, insurance and cruisers. The mayor said the town’s contribution of $17,400 has increased during the last five years; previously it was $10,000. Scutieri said it’s now time for another hike to cover ever-increasing expenses.Making matters more complex is that Millerton’s fiscal year is different from North East’s; the village runs its budget from June 1 to May 31, while the town budget works according to the calendar year.In terms of the recreation contract, it also plans for a three-year scenario.“Our contracts say we’ll pay half of the net expenses up to a cap amount,” Sherman said. “Generally speaking, we have had a top dollar amount budgeted.”Adding insult to injury, the supervisor said, is that other economic factors paint a gloomier picture.“With the downturn economy we’ve seen the number of people in the recreation program go down,” he said. “So they’re reducing the size of the staff, too. We were left with the expectation the village wanted to slightly enhance its revenues if it could so the net cost could come down and be more in line with what we were providing in support from the town. So half the net cost would be getting close to what we were putting as a cap, but we would increase the cap a little bit over the years.”The village’s plan, Sherman said, ends up being more “open ended.” The recreation contract is for $23,075, about $5,000 more than the previous bill of $17,500 — and that’s only for the first of two payments. In total the village is asking the town to pay $11,150 more “without any control where we might be going,” according to Sherman, “and that’s just a starting position.“It’s a jump and we’re not sure what the heck’s going on here,” he said. “A lot of this is just two months worth of service, pretty much just July and August. Basically what we’re looking at is day camp and the pool.”That, Scutieri said, is not an accurate picture. The village’s recreation contract covers not only the summer program, which includes the seven-week camp program and hours of the pool, it also includes year-round maintenance of all of the village parks and salaries for maintenance workers and the 26 employees who run and work at the summer programs — from lifeguards to the recreation director.“We manage to do a really good job,” the mayor said, adding the village’s recreation budget is $114,000 in total. “When we get the chance to explain [our expenses] to the Town Board [hopefully] they’ll remember why we have to increase the budget amount. The two municipalities work well together; we just have to sit down and explain the numbers.”When asked if the town is going to continue to look toward Millerton for providing recreational services, Sherman paused before replying.“It’s a serious question,” he said. “People are talking about something has to be done. The board looked at it and felt discouraged. We were not ready to sign off on it; we need to have a discussion. This was something that was completely unexpected — there was no advance notice.”The Town Board and Village Board are scheduled to met about the service contracts Thursday, July 28, at 7 p.m., at Town Hall. The special Town Board meeting is open to the public.