MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Town of Carmel property owners will likely see a 1.6 percent increase in their tax bills for 2019.

Supervisor Ken Schmitt presented the 2019 tentative budget at the Town Board’s Oct. 3 meeting, a $29. 8 million spending package that also stays under the state-imposed tax cap. The tax cap puts a limit on the year-to-year increase in the amount of money a municipality can collect in tax revenue—either 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. This year, the rate of inflation was 2.25 percent, so that tax levy cap was set at 2 percent.

Comptroller Mary Ann Maxwell reported that the tentative budget remained under the tax cap by $25,907.

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“Due to good financial planning and an available carryover from a retired capital debt, the town was able to stay under the tax cap,” she said.

Maxwell said that with the 1.6 percent increase in the tax rate, the average homeowner (assessed at $347,000) would pay approximately $1,738 per year, a $27 increase from the prior year. This assessed valuation reflects the current equalization rate of 100 percent.

Of the $29.8 million in expenditures, Maxwell noted, $21.1 million is budgeted in 2019 for benefits and employee compensation costs (salaries, overtime, pensions, healthcare, workers’ comp, FICA/Medicare/MTA tax, etc.)—70.8 percent of the total budget.

During the budget presentation, Schmitt laid out several new initiatives for next year. They include:

• A full-time special patrol officer to provide a greater level of security at the Town Hall during normal business hours. The position will be filled by a retired police officer at an annual salary of $30.000. “The world has changed, and we live in a volatile society,” Schmitt said. “We’ve put this off, but the time has come.”

• Two variable message boards that will be used to communicate with the public during emergencies and townwide events. “We currently don’t own one and I think it’s smart to buy our own,” Schmitt said. “They are solar-powered and used during emergencies like power outages. We need to go to the next level.”

• Funding to facilitate upgrades and improvements in the Town Hall’s recording studio. (The current equipment was installed 13 years ago.) “We have been having some issues [with the television broadcast of town meetings],” Schmitt said. “The video is not very clear, and we’ve had some audio issues.”

• Purchase and install a new air conditioning unit for the main meeting room in the Town Hall. The current unit has been in service since 1975. “It doesn’t make sense to keep putting money into it,” Schmitt said. “We are being proactive.”

• One full-time position in the Highway Department, which will bring the staff to 34 workers. The highway staff was reduced by four full-time workers during the economic downturn. The new position will replace a position that was cut from previous budgets. “The town has grown and there are more roads,” Schmitt noted.

• Funding for a professional consulting firm to assist the town in providing professional and technical guidance as the town begins to develop a new master plan and revise the town code. The budget includes $100,000 for this project. “The current master plan is 22 years old and we really need to update it,” he said.

Schmitt cited Maxwell and her staff for the work they did preparing the budget.

“I give her special credit,” he said. “She did a lot of work on this and it shows. She invests your money well.”

Schmitt said the town has come a long way since the cap-busting budgets of the past, with tax rate hikes as high as 8.8 percent in 2012 and 7.9 percent in 2013.

“It was a struggle, but we got through it,” he said of those days.

The 2019 tentative budget is still subject to review and amendment by the Town Board. Those changes must be made by the time the board adopts what will become the preliminary budget on Oct. 17. A public hearing on the preliminary budget is slated for Nov. 7. The final budget must b