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Tax Cap, Library Among Concerns at North Salem Budget Hearing

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – The proposed 2012 town budget was the subject of a public hearing Tuesday evening. Supervisor Warren Lucas explained, “We’ve tried to keep this budget as tight as possible.” In most areas, he said, it has been possible to stay within the 2 percent tax cap but exceptions will likely be seen in the Croton Falls Water District and Peach Lake Sewer District. He is therefore asking the board to pass a local law to waive the tax cap in these two instances.

The proposed budget suggests a 1.5 percent salary increase for town employees, their first in three years. The number of town employees has decreased by 15 percent due to attrition. Two of these employees have been replaced by part-time workers. Lucas said this makes more funds available for highway equipment and road improvements, which have been neglected since 2006. Elected officials have foregone raises in salary for five years.

The subject that drew the most attention at the public hearing was the increase in funds to the library. The 2011 town budget provided $311,000 for the library, with another $100,000 or more raised through private donations and fundraising. The 2012 town budget increases the library line by $5,000, representing two percent, to help fund a generator.

Local resident Bill Monti has written a letter of opposition to the board. In a telephone interview, Monti noted that the cost of a generator is a capital expenditure and should not be included in the general library budget.

Monti said, “They want a generator to keep the basement from flooding because there’s communication equipment down there that belongs to the town. Why not move the equipment to the town offices? What’s it doing in the library basement in the first place?”

Monti added, “The library is not a ‘need,’ it is a ‘want.’ I need to have the roads maintained, the police, the fire department, the ambulance corps. Those are needs. The library is a want. There is no free money floating around and they don’t present a ‘spending plan.’”

The absence of a library spending plan was also cited by Howard Hellwinkel, speaking at the public hearing. “If you give money, you want to watch where it is going,” he said. “I would ask the same thing about any place money goes.”

Lucas said, “I have people on both sides, telling me I’m not giving the library enough and people telling me we’re giving them way too much. They do a fantastic job down there. When I look at these numbers I have a reasonable idea of where the money goes.”

"I don’t think there is any other library which raises as much money and we are very lucky we have fantastic support from the town both in usage and in financial contributions," said Tim Purdy, president of the Library Board of Trustees.

Councilmember Peter Kamenstein added, “I don’t think a lot of people realize how many programs the library offers and to whom. It’s really quite amazing.”

There was some discussion of various types of libraries. The Ruth Keeler is “an association library” and its governing rules vary somewhat from “a special district library.”

Kamenstein said when he was on the library board, “we looked into becoming a special district and kept coming back to the same conclusion. Funding partially by the town and partially by fundraising was by far the best way to operate.”

Library Director Carolyn Reznick added, “If you can think of some way we could improve it, we would be thrilled to death. If we were to become a special district library it would be more expensive because we’d be part of the New York State retirement system. Right now, our employees don’t get benefits.”

The final budget is due on Dec. 20.

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