MONROE-The Town Board is scheduled to vote Monday, Nov. 15, on a proposed 2005 budget that would increase taxes on town properties outside the villages by an average 7 percent while taxes on properties in the villages of Monroe, Kiryas Joel and Harriman would decrease by an average 3.8 percent. The estimated $10 million spending plan was outlined at a public hearing a week ago Thursday. While town officials still consider the proposal a work in progress, it details an increase in the blended tax rate of 9.3 percent over 2004 spending. Town Supervisor Sandy Leonard attributed the increase largely to rising costs of health insurance and a 45 percent increase in worker's compensation rates. She also pointed out that the $83,364 increase in the library budget accounts is a factor in the overall tax rate increase. Residents who voted last week approved the library budget by 49 votes. However, not all of the absentee, provisional and military ballots sent out have been counted. The final tally could affect the budget that is ultimately adopted by the Town Board. (See related story on page 3.) As things stand now, town taxes on a home outside the villages and assessed at $50,000 would increase to $964.56 from $904.85 last year, an increase of $59.71. That same home inside the village would see a tax decrease of $20.52, from $588.81 to $568.29. Leonard also said some town employees would receive a 5-percent salary increase next year. "It seems that the employees are getting 5 percent increases and good for them," said village of Monroe resident Don Humphrey. "It's a lot more than you get in my company - it's 3 1/2 percent, but the benefits, I know, are a real issue. I doubt that employees are contributing anything." Councilman Don Weeks explained that as of two years ago, all new employees are paying 25 percent of the cost of health insurance. While the salary increase accounts for only about 0.3 percent of the total budget, Leonard said, "I want to defend the 5 percent pay raise. We are in a very fortunate position this year. We have the money to be able to do it." She added that salaries are low to begin with. "I don't know how we expect to keep or maintain good employees," she continued. "In the past, we have hovered around 3 percent or 3 1/2 percent, and I know some people aren't getting raises. But with what we saw in the budget and the ability to do it, we thought it would be the fair thing to do." Other major increases include: $73,658 for fire protection, the majority of which is attributed to upgrades and a new vehicle for the Lakeside Fire District. $175,000 for asphalt to repave Larkin Drive, the busy roadway leading to the Harriman Commons Shopping Center. While this issue drew a good deal of public comment, Weeks pointed out that the roadway is 10 years old and badly in need of repair. It was suggested to the board that since construction was still on going along Larkin Drive, this project should wait. Leonard said that most roads in the town have a six-year replacement schedule and therefore Larkin Drive is over due. "We should fix the road now before it gets worse," she said. The town lost its court bid to hold Wal-Mart, Home Depot, BJ's Wholesale and more than a dozen other retailers that benefit from this roadway responsible for its upkeep. $88,383 for the Monroe Joint Park & Recreation budget. Specifically for the Smith Clove Park Commission, this increase is slated for a variety of programs including a Child I.D. project, a 40th Anniversary celebration and possibly a park director. Taxpayers saw a large increase in flat charge for garbage pickup last year from $237.61 to $292.47. For 2005, that flat charge would be reduced .35 percent to $291.63. Town resident Ward Brower, a member of the Town Conservation Commission, said he supported the board's efforts to control costs and keep taxes reasonable. But he noted that with town's population now at 31,407, "Monroe is becoming a large, urban community and the board should plan for the future." That planning, Brower said, should include police protection and adequate library funding. Leonard acknowledged that the issue of creating a town police force does come up for discussion, but that the State Police provide adequate protection in the unincorporated areas of the town. She offered the Town of Woodbury's $14 million budget, compared to Monroe's $10 million, as an example of how a town police force and all the associated liabilities would significantly increase the spending. Hearings on Fire Company Contracts and Special Districts also are scheduled for Monday. The vote on the budget will take place during the regular town board meeting, which takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Monday at the Monroe Senior Center, 101 Mine Road.