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Pine Plains Town Board takes first glance at 2022 municipal budget

PINE PLAINS — Among the items listed on its workshop meeting agenda on Monday, Sept. 1, the Pine Plains Town Board focused its attention on a preview of the 2022 town budget.

Board members convened in person at Pine Plains Town Hall and virtually at 7 p.m. The meeting can now be viewed on the “Town of Pine Plains” YouTube channel.

Addressing the 2022 budget, town Supervisor Darrah Cloud said health insurance costs are going up 7%. Reminding board members their health insurance is always renewed in March, she explained the increase won’t affect the town during the first two months of 2022 but will affect everything after that from April onward. 

With the town’s un-allocated insurance expected to go up by 5 or 6%, Cloud said this year’s un-allocated insurance amount is about $1,000 more than the town initially predicted. In the meantime, she said the town is prepared to “fly by on the seat of our pants a little bit on insurance.”

Looking into next year’s salaries, Cloud talked about the town becoming competitive with salaries “because we can’t find people to take the jobs.” 

Though she said this was a topic the board should discuss more in-depth in executive session, the supervisor said she wanted to warn the board “we’re looking at having to be competitive just to get people.”

Next, Pine Plains Highway Superintendent Heather Emerich spoke about her fiscal plan, noting she broke everything down in depth in terms of what she’s anticipating in terms of budget requirements. 

Focusing on salaries, Emerich explained she put together a schedule of salaries for individuals with certain years of experience. Projecting the 2021 Highway Departments Compensation Comparisons, she said made a comparison of neighboring municipalities’ highway department salaries, starting salaries, road mileage, different job classifications, health insurance contributions, whether or not their employees are union members and highway superintendent salaries.

As the board examined the comparisons in relation to the Pine Plains Highway Department, Emerich pointed out the challenges highway departments encounter, especially in recruiting workers for the highway crews.

Cloud then said she has about half of all the department budgets and reported “there are no surprises — everybody wants a little more money and almost everything is going for some training and supplies.”

Bringing up a salary issue with the town’s police budget, Cloud said the idea of giving Pine Plains Police Department Officer-in-Charge John Hughes a salary as opposed to paying him at an hourly rate needs to be discussed. 

With Hughes working part-time, she explained he’s “on basically 24/7” and is having a hard time figuring out “how much money to charge the town for the time he’s working when he’s getting a call at midnight or he’s got to talk somebody through something.

“It’s becoming unwieldy,” Cloud said, “so he requested that we think about giving him a salary as opposed to trying to do it our way.”

The discussion then led to the stimulus money the town received from the federal government for COVID relief. Answering questions  from the board about the funds, Cloud said Pine Plains has half of the stimulus money in hand and can only spend it on infrastructure needs, such as broadband, septic systems, etc. 

With the first half of the stimulus money in the town’s account, Cloud said the second half should arrive next summer.

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