A member of the Whitehall Town Board has challenged fellow board members to curtail expenses and has proposed an across-the-board reduction in spending.
Richard LaChapelle is advocating for sweeping cuts in expenditures as officials begin the process of preparing the town’s 2014 operating budget.
“I’d like to see every department come in with a 5 percent cut,” he said. “We need to save some money and give the taxpayers a break.”
But it remains to be seen whether officials are willing, or able, to acquiesce to LaChapelle’s proposal.
Supervisor George Armstrong said he would like to comply with the 2 percent tax cap but doesn’t believe it’s possible to cut spending at the rate LaChapelle proposed.
“I think if we come in where we did last year, we will have done a hell of a job,” he said.
Although this year’s budget increased taxes by only 2.01 percent (the preliminary budget called for almost no tax increase but was then adjusted to purchase a new truck and to include more than $4,000 in raises for town employees), officials increased spending by more than $50,000.
That increase was largely driven by escalating health insurance and pension costs. Many local municipalities have struggled with those expenses.
Whitehall’s contributions to the state-retirement system have increased nearly four-fold since 2009 and officials expect them to continue to rise in each of the next two years before peaking in 2015.
Despite those challenges, LaChapelle said officials need to find a way to reduce expenses.
“I think it’s our job to keep taxes low,” he said.
Town board member Stephanie Safka questioned where the cuts were going to from.
“I don’t think we have a frivolous budget. We have cut to the bone more than most (municipalities),” she said.
LaChapelle said he would not approve any budget that includes a greater than 2 percent tax increase.
The board has passed a law in each of the last two years to override the tax cap (taxes were increased by 10 percent in 2012). LaChapelle was the only member of the board who voted against such a law last year.
Department heads have been asked to make all budget requests for 2014 by Sept. 15. A tentative budget is due to the town clerk by Sept. 30 and the board will likely finalize and vote to approve the budget in November.
The board revisited and expanded upon a policy that requires certain employees undergo a full criminal background check.
The original policy, which was approved last month, was initially limited to Recreation Center employees, but officials discussed expanding the law to include all new hires.
Armstrong said he was in favor of a more encompassing policy that would include new hires in all departments.
They also discussed including finger printing, which is processed by the state and is more thorough than a local background check.
Although the entire board endorsed the idea, they didn’t reach a consensus on whether the town or employees should pay for the background checks, which cost approximately $75.
Armstrong said he was in favor of covering the expense for part-time employees, who make little more than minimal wage.
Town board members Dave Hollister said he would favor the town paying for all background checks.
The board passed a motion to have attorney, Christian Morris, draw up an employee policy that includes the new stipulations.
The next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Sept. 11.