By Holly Crocco
The Carmel Town Board on Nov. 20 approved a 2020 budget that raises the tax rate less than 1 percent, with three out of five members voting “yes.” Councilman John Lupinacci abstained from the vote, and Councilman John Schneider was absent.
The budget increases the tax rate by 0.98 percent and just barely eeks in below the state-mandated property tax cap.
“We are $876 under the cap,” said Town Supervisor Kenneth Schmitt. “Mary Ann (Maxwell, town comptroller) was very creative when she worked on this budget.”
The budget-to-budget increase in spending from 2019 to 2020 is 4.1 percent, or $1.9 million, including the general fund, highway department and all special districts.
Schmitt said the rising cost of debt payments, as well as salaries, health insurance and pension contributions for town employees are the biggest budget drivers. “If we didn’t have those the budget would be much less,” he said.
The supervisor pointed out that salary increases average 2 percent, while the cost of living increase is about 2.5 percent.
In the 2020 budget, one full-time position has been added to the highway department, bringing total highway staff up to 35. According to Schmitt, the highway department used to be more robust, but during the 2008 recession, as people retired, those positions weren’t filled in an effort to save money.
The budget also includes funding for comprehensive plan updates and code revisions, and an asset management plan that addresses water and sewer infrastructure needs.
Also included in the budget is $75,000 to install bathrooms at Baldwin Meadows Park in Mahopac; $75,000 for a new natural gas standby generator for Town Hall; and $50,000 to go toward future window replacement at Town Hall, which still has the building’s original single-pane windows.
In addition, $120,000 is set aside for the Swan Cove park project and municipal parking lot improvements in Mahopac.
“Obviously that’s not going to pay for the cost of the total buildout of Swan Cove and municipal parking, but there’s funding in there for things we may want to purchase without bonding or borrowing for it,” said Schmitt.
Moody’s Investor Services has maintained the town’s Aa1 bond rating, which the supervisor said this will help keep interest rates low when borrowing money.
Councilman Michael Barile noted that the budget also supports the police department, which only two years ago was on the brink of elimination but is now almost fully-staffed. It also provides funding for improvements at Airport Park, and adds an assistant building director and full-time zoning inspector to the town’s employees.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the best budgets we’ve seen in the past 20 years and I just want to thank Mary Ann and Kenny,” said Barile. “When you’re less than half of CPI (Consumer Price Index), there shouldn’t be any complaints – but there probably will be.”