The Village of Cobleskill talked Friday about eliminating as many as three cops in an effort to bring what’s now a proposed 16.5 percent tax hike down to 5.5 percent.
Adding some $107,000 in reserves to the mix and savings as fuel prices continue to drop would bring that increase down into the three percent range as would plans to stop providing garbage pick-up, a $148,000 savings.
“There’s no way we can take this budget to the taxpayers,” said Trustee Mark Galasso, who argued for no more than the three percent increase, pointing out that even with the $107,000 from reserves, it’s still really a 16.5 percent increase.
“Let’s go right to the Police Department...[and eliminate officers.”
“I’ve been down that road before and got my head handed to me,” said Trustee and former mayor Bill Gilmore.
“Put the bulls-eye right on my forehead,” Mr. Galasso answered.
No one liked the idea much—including Mr. Galasso.
But he argued the village is already paying for the Sheriff’s Department through its county taxes and getting no coverage; if they eliminated a shift of two to three officers when deputies were on duty, they could save $60,000 each.
“If we do not provide coverage [during the day], they will have to send someone,” he said. “We will still be protected 24/7.”
Though there’s been talk of creating a Police District that would bill the Town of Cobleskill for village-provided service, Mr. Galasso said there’s not enough support for it from outside-village taxpayers, who would have to pick up the cost.
That led to discussion over the fact that that the village produces $9 million in sales tax revenue, but only gets back $100,000 of it from the county—a fact that’s not likely to change in light of the county’s own dire financial picture.
Police Chief Mike O’Brien wasn’t at Friday’s budget discussion.
Police Benevolent Association President John Sullivan, however, criticizes the reductions in a letter to the editor on page 8.
Highway Superintendent Tom Fissell said with fuel and heating oil prices dropping since he submitted his budget, he could probably cut expenses by $16,000; the Water and Sewer Departments run off their own funds and their superintendents pointed out any cuts there wouldn’t show up in the general budget.
The village office heats with natural gas so no savings are expected there; the idea of reducing the work week to four days was batted around, but it’s unclear if there would be any real savings.
“I think your goal of three percent is very artificial, Trustee Carol McGuire told Mr. Galasso.
“My fuel bill has quadrupled...my groceries are up far more than three percent. Why would I expect the village to provide services at last year’s prices?”
As proposed by Mayor Sellers, the $2.89 million budget sets the tax rate at $12.15 per $1,000 of assessed value.
For the owner of a $150,000 home, Mr. Galasso said, that’s an increase of $195 in taxes from $1,822 to $2,017—assuming the $107,000 in reserves in used. Without it, he said, taxes on that home would be $2,124.
“Maybe we have to close the codes office all together,” he said. “Maybe we have to eliminate a shift from the Police Department. This can’t be.”
Trustees said they wouldn’t even consider the changes without talking to Chief O’Brien; Trustee Sandy MacKay suggested making the cuts more gradually, over time, through attrition.
“We need more information,” he said. “I don’t like the idea of cutting police officers, but I don’t like this tax increase either.”