KEENE - The 2011 budget passed by the Keene Town Council at the end of November will increase the tax levy by roughly 3 percent.
A 13.5 percent increase in health insurance and higher mandatory contributions to the state retirement system have all contributed to the increase, according to town Supervisor William Ferebee.
"It's the same story here as it is in other places," he said. "We're dealing with these things that we can't control."
The budget totals $2,840,76, down roughly $6,000 or .2 percent from 2010.
The general fund is down 2 percent from $1,313,259 in 2010 to $1,283,870 in the 2011 budget.
"We're still trying to maintain the services our constituents are used to," Ferebee said. "We want to offer everything that the general public wants while still trying to hold back costs."
The tax levy is $1,925,154, up 3.2 percent from last year.
The budget was also affected by an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AuSable Club) who contend that their property assessment in the past was too high. A non-jury trial of the case was held on Nov. 29, but there was no final ruling. According to Ferebee, the town is waiting for a decision from the judge.
"It's hard to tell when that will be, but we're probably looking at April for a final decision," he said. "I think the day in court went well. Of course, the point is that this whole thing costs money."
$45,000 was budgeted for defense in the lawsuit - now in its fourth year - according to Ferebee.
Ferebee said the weak economy also played its part, adding that revenues were down.
"I think we did the best we could," Ferebee said. "The town board worked hard to keep the budget in line."
"In my thirty plus years on the town board, I don't think we've ever worked so diligently on the budget," said town board member Paul Martin.
DOT salt shed
A large, new salt shed on state Route 73 in Keene is nearly complete.
The state Department of Transportation built a new facility for road salt storage along the highway that is scheduled to be completed by the end of the month, according to Ferebee.
"Once it's done the town will start storing its salt there too," he said, pointing out a similar program in Ray Brook and other areas. "It's getting to be more popular."
The new salt shed, which is being built by Gudabri Construction based in Savannah, N.Y., will help the town keep all of its salt stored and covered throughout the year.
"This will really help to monitor run-off from the salt, which will reduce contamination of our local aquifers," Ferebee said. "That's something we've always been concerned with."
Post office update
Although little headway has been made to reestablish a post office in Keene Valley, other steps have been taken. A drop box was recently installed.
"Now people can at least send out their mail without having to make the drive to Keene," Ferebee said.
The post office in Keene Valley closed after an expired lease, and has since been absorbed by the neighboring Keene post office five miles away.
The effort to bring a post office back to the small hamlet is still underway, however.
Town board member Paul Martin, also a part of the Keene Community Trust, is leading an effort to find a local business to establish a Contract Postal Unit (CPU) - a site operated by a private business under contract to the U.S. Postal Service to provide postal services to the public.
"We've been in contact with 13 different businesses in Keene Valley," Martin said. "It seems like, at this point, that a CPU is the best option."
A meeting with Postal Service representatives will be held on Jan. 4 at the Keene Valley fire station. The meeting will be in two parts, according to Martin. The first hour, from 4 to 5 p.m., will be an informational session for any businesses interested in becoming a CPU to learn about the logistics of running the operation.
"Several businesses have been in communication with the Postal Service already," Martin said. "But until that meeting we won't really know too much."
The second half of the meeting from 5 to 6 p.m. will give Keene Valley residents the opportunity to ask Postal Service representatives questions.
"It will give everybody a chance to interact, to put it nicely," Martin said. "I'm sure there will be plenty of venting."