The Manheim Town Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a 2014 budget that restored the salary for the town justice to $7,995.
The salary for the position had been reduced to $5,200 in the council’s preliminary and tentative budgets, but after hearing comments from town residents during a public hearing on the spending plan, the council voted to restore $2,795 to the justice’s salary.
Residents who spoke out against the reduction during the public hearing prior to the vote to adopt the budget said it was “vindictive” and “reeked of petty politics.”
“The council backed the wrong candidate in the primary and now they are punishing him for it,” said Dolgeville resident Gregg Williams. “It’s dirty and it’s underhanded.”
“Reducing his salary makes everyone look bad, because everyone in the village and the town knows the real reason why the board made this decision,” said Dolgeville resident Karen Goyette. “This decision was based on politics and nothing more.”
Michael George defeated current Manheim Town Justice Gerald Thompson by a vote of 214 to 187 in September’s Republican primary election. In the weeks leading up to the Sept. 10 vote, town Councilmen Larry Austin, Fred Doerrer and Peter Jaikin and town Supervisor John Haughton penned a letter in support of Thompson’s re-election.
Haughton said Tuesday evening the decision to reduce the justice’s salary was based a decline in court revenue and a smaller caseload, and not on politics.
“The caseload is not what it used to be, and while the purpose of the justice’s position is not to create revenue for the town, the fact is that the state Comptroller’s Office is taking and keeping more and more of the revenue the court produces,” he said.
Residents also questioned if the justice’s salary would have been reduced had Thompson won the primary and general elections. Haughton said it would not have been.
“Gerald has been with the town for years,” he said. “A new person is coming in.”
“I have over 25 years of experience as a town justice, so it’s not like I am some rumdum off the street,” said George, who received 490 votes as an unopposed candidate for the town justice position in this month’s general election, according to unofficial results.
George previously served as one of two Manheim town justices, but had his position eliminated by a town-wide vote of 103 to 84 in 2010 as a cost saving measure.
“The voters decided I was the one for the job and believe I have the experience needed for the position,” he said Tuesday evening. “I’m sorry the board doesn’t feel that way.”
Page 2 of 3 - George added the council’s decision to restore the justice’s salary to $7,995 was “fair.”
The 2014 budget calls for a zero percent increase in the tax rate for town residents who live in the village of Dolgeville and an increase of two cents per thousand of assessed valuation for residents who live outside of Dolgeville. Total appropriations in the budget are $940,604, a decrease of $11,293 from the 2013 budget, and total revenues are $490,360, a decrease of $3,275. The budget calls for $213,500 to be raised by taxes.
General fund appropriations in the budget are $346,724, a $22,317 increase, and revenues are $86,274, a $15,229 increase. General fund town outside appropriations in the budget are $27,800, a $570 decrease, and revenues are $21,000, a $370 decrease.
Highway fund appropriations in the budget are $278,754, an $8,275 decrease, and revenues are $137,632, an $8,503 increase. Highway fund town outside appropriations in the budget are $160,749, a $30,797, and revenues are $122,327, a $29,219 decrease.
“This budget meets the state’s 1.66 percent tax cap,” said Haughton. “The council works hard to put a budget in place that does not exceed the cap, and that looks forward to next year. I am confident with this budget the council will not exceed the tax cap next year.”
The 2014 budget includes $27,000 for the repair and maintenance of Beaver Brook Dam, a new expense after the town assumed ownership of the dam in May.
The budget also includes a $65,625 contract with the Dolgeville Volunteer Fire Department for fire protection. The contract includes an additional $28,125 that had been originally offered to the Little Falls Fire Department for similar services.
The council voted Tuesday to give the contract it offered to Little Falls to Dolgeville after they did not receive a reply from the city if they would accept the town’s offer.
“The city was given deadlines of Sept. 30 and Oct. 30 to let us know if our proposal was acceptable, and they did not respond,” said Haughton. “I don’t know what more we can do, because we cannot leave people without fire protection. ”
Little Falls Mayor Robert Peters said during a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon the city did respond to the town’s last request in the form of a letter sent late last week.
“I do not want people to have the opinion that the city of Little Falls does not want provide fire protection to the town of Manheim, because that is not the case,” he said. “The city is interested in providing the service, even if it is just for one year.”
He added there was some confusion over how a September meeting between the city, town and village ended and who would be responsible for drawing up the contract.
Page 3 of 3 - “The town did make the city aware that they could decide to give the fire contract to Dolgeville, and that’s their decision to make, but I do not want it portrayed that the city was not interested in continuing the arrangement,” said Peters.
The council on Tuesday evening also approved a $2,818 contract for fire protection from the St. Johnsville Volunteer Fire Department.
The $2,795 to restore the town justice’s salary to $7,995 will come from the $32,000 contingent fund included in the budget, Haughton said.