MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The Town Board approved the final budget for 2020 last week, which will provide for a 0.98 percent hike in the tax rate.

The initial supervisor’s budget, presented back in early October, called for a 0.8 percent increase in the tax rate, but a fulltime highway department position has been added since then. Comptroller Mary Ann Maxwell said the salary for that position is $81,000, plus benefits, for a total cost of about $130,000, and that precipitated the slight jump in the tax rate.

The 0.98 percent tax increase means that the average homeowner, assessed at $347,000, would pay approximately $1,752 on next year’s tax bill, about a $14 increase from 2019. The assessed valuation reflects a current equalization rate of 100 percent.

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The $30.6 million spending package also comes in under the state-mandated tax levy cap (the amount collected by taxes), but just barely.

“We are $876 under the tax cap,” Supervisor Ken Schmitt said at the board’s Nov. 20 meeting. “[Comptroller] Mary Ann [Maxwell] was very creative when she put together this budget. We were close, but we are under the cap.”

Schmitt said the budget-to-budget increase was 4.1 percent—up $1.9 million from last year, including all the special districts and highway department.

“This is due in part to debt-payment increases, health insurance, pensions, and salaries,” Schmitt said. “They are all budget drivers. If we didn’t have those, the increase would be much less. But the truth is everything goes up every year. Health insurance benefits increase, pension costs increase, salaries—they all increase.”

Schmitt noted that salary increases for the 2020 budget averaged 2 percent.

“The cost of living [increase] for 2020 is about 2.5 percent. So, we are under that,” he noted.

The addition of that fulltime highway department employee came at the request of Highway Superintendent Mike Simone. The addition nearly brings his staffing back to pre-recession levels.

“This will bring his staff up to 35, one below where he was in 2008,” Schmitt said. “So, we are bringing it close to where he was. During the recession, [Simone] did have people retire from the highway department, but we did not replace them. He’s in pretty good shape now. The extra body will come in handy—it’s sorely needed.”

Schmitt also pointed out that Moody’s has retained the town’s Aa1 bond rating, which helps keep interest rates low when the town needs to borrow money for things such as capital improvement projects.

“The comptroller’s office does a lot of preparation for that, and we did very well,” Schmitt said. “We did ask how we could become a triple-A [rated] town and the answer was we probably will never be a triple-A town, mostly because of our median income—the economic factors just aren’t there.”

Other budget drivers include money for the asset management program that town is undertaking—about $165,000.

“That’s very important. They look at our water and sewer infrastructure and map out a whole plan with respect to the condition of the plants and what their needs will be going forward,” Schmitt said. “That’s important for a town the size of Carmel.”

Other key expenditures include:

• $75,000 for the installation of bathrooms at Baldwin Meadows Park

• $75,000 for a natural gas generator at Town Hall

• $50,000 for window replacement at Town Hall (the building was built in 1975 and has its original single-pane windows, which are not energy-efficient)

• $120,000 for Swan Cove and the municipal parking lot (which is not to pay costs of the total build-out, but provides funding for things that the town may want to purchase without bonding)

Councilman Mike Barile noted that the budget is also helping to restore staffing for the police department.

“Two years ago, everyone was worried that we were getting rid of the police department and now it’s nearly back to full staff,” he said. “We are shy one officer because he just retired.

“The other big thing is, we are trying to get the building department in front of the eight ball now,” he continued. “We have a [fulltime] building inspector coming on and a fulltime zoning inspector now. So, as far as I am concerned, this is one of the best budgets I’ve seen in the last 20 years. There are a lot of new things put into this budget.”

Schmitt said the Town Board did the best it could to keep costs down, but certain factors were out of its control.

“We did everything we could to control the spending,” he said. “There’s just some drivers that will come up every year and cause an increase.”