Kent fails to meet budget deadline

(Original publication: November 20, 2003)

The Town Board's decision to reject Kent's 2004 proposed budget will cost an average homeowner an extra $5.84 in town taxes next year.

Town budgets are supposed to be in place by today, according to town law. The five-member board's unanimous vote earlier this week leaves the town fiscally dependent next year on the preliminary budget proposed by outgoing Supervisor Annmarie Baisley.

Under the preliminary plan, people with an average home assessment of $177,000 would pay $1,036.87 in taxes, compared to $1,031.03 under the reworked budget that was in front of the Town Board. The rejected version was supposed to be a compromise document reached jointly by the supervisor, the town's chief financial officer and the remaining board members.

But its failure echoes the charges of financial disarray leveled by Baisley's critics and political opponents.

"There were still quite a few questions, budget lines, that didn't have the information we felt we needed," Republican Councilwoman Patricia Madigan said yesterday.

The 2004 budget was the last one prepared in part by Baisley, a Republican who lost her bid earlier this month for a fourth term. Supervisor-elect Democrat William 'Bil' Tulipane said financial housekeeping will be a priority of his administration.

He had lamented the expenditure of an $8.2 million surplus in less than three years to continually balance the town's budgets. During his campaign, he forecast a 20 percent tax increase in 2005 because that money would be gone. That prediction has one Lake Carmel resident concerned.

"I'm not going to scream about it or lose any sleep over it," Michael Ravert said of the extra few dollars on his tax bill. "It's the big surplus — I'm worried about that being gone."

Baisley has maintained the surplus totaled about $2 million, and the money was used for overtime and for materials during last winter's snowstorms, as well as to help pay for Kent's new Town Hall, police station and library being built on Route 52. The supervisor said a larger than expected mortgage-tax payment from the county and a hiring freeze would leave the town a surplus of about $1.2 million.

"I feel it was a fair budget and had everything the town needed," said Baisley, adding that she ended up voting against it because of a last-minute resolution rescinding the budget's proposed 3 percent raise for elected officials.

Yesterday, Tulipane said he would seek to undo some aspects of the 2004 preliminary budget, such as restoring money that had been taken from the Planning Board's consultants' fees and from the recreation department's budget. Tulipane said he wants to abolish the 3 percent raises favored by Baisley.

"We have to redress those and we have to do it very quickly," Tulipane said.

Board members said they voted against the budget because the final version needed to be reworked. The decision, though, gives Baisley the last say in financial planning.

Jim Quent, a spokesman for the state comptroller's office, said town law dictates that if a board fails to adopt a budget, the supervisor's preliminary spending plan is put in place.

That, said Democratic Councilman Joseph D'Ambrosio, was an unfortunate consequence.

"(The final budget) was just such a broken document," he said.

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