PLATTSBURGH — Residents criticized spending during a public hearing on a local law to allow the Plattsburgh Town Council to override the state tax cap for its 2014 budget.
In its recently released tentative spending plan, the council came up with a tax-levy increase of 47 percent overall for a total budget that would climb from $3.14 million this year to $4.58 million.
The state figure for the 2014 tax-levy cap is 1.66 percent.
About 50 people attended the hearing on Local Law 3 of 2013, which would allow the town to exceed that cap. That law needs to be in place before the town votes on a final budget to enable it to exceed the cap if necessary.
The largest tentative tax-levy increase is in the highway fund, up to $2.3 million from $756,000, an increase of about 198 percent over this year.
Town Supervisor Bernie Bassett said the Town Council, Budget Officer Diane Miller and Finance Manager Patrick Bowen will continue to meet with department heads to find ways to cut the budget.
“We don’t know what the next stage of the budget will be. We’re in the paring process,” he said.
‘EASY WAY OUT’
Town Council candidate Bill Brudvig said by his calculations, the town would generate about $1.6 million in revenue with the highway-fund tax levy and underestimated sales tax revenue in 2013 and 2014. He said that just paves the way for continued over-spending at the town level.
“You guys have got to do something about your spending,” he said.
Town Council candidate Michael Cashman said he isn’t in favor of exceeding the cap.
“Since I have heard about this proposal, I have been against it,” he said.
Cashman said he would like to see the town receive more of the sales-tax money generated in the county, as the businesses in the town are the leading contributor.
John St. Germain, a former Town Council member, said there is no reason to exceed the tax cap except for poor budgeting by the town. He said any measure to override it should be approved by the voters, not just a majority of the Town Council.
Todd Holland said he thinks increasing taxes is the easy way out. A better way to attract new businesses and residents and thus raise the tax base could be to lower taxes, he said.
Debbie Blake said sales-tax revenue has been shown to be a dependable source for every year except one since 1980, when the Town Council decided to use it to reduce general and highway fund levies. Out-of-control spending by the town is the real problem, she said.
Last year, she said, the Cumberland Head Taxpayers Association showed the council $500,000 in expenses that could be cut but that officials ignored the proposal. She said state audits have been critical of deficit spending by the town for the past few years as it depleted its general- and highway-fund reserves.
“Spending was and is the problem, and it’s out of control, and audits confirm it,” Blake said. “This law would open the door on the tax-cap blockade.”
‘FAILED YOUR TRUST’
Town Council candidate Tom Metz said the budget low-balls the projected sales-tax revenue by about $360,000, which gives the impression that money is being hidden. He said the town needs to cut the budget and find more sources of revenue.
He accused the town of conducting tax warfare on seniors and others on fixed incomes.
“Gentlemen, you have failed your trust,” he said.
Greg Lucas said many town residents are becoming less able to pay their taxes and that no one has an ever-increasing supply of income.
“How many of you are going to get a 47 percent raise this year?” he asked the audience.
Dave Witkowski said he was disappointed in the Town Council, as many other municipalities and school districts are still able to stay under the cap. He said since he moved to Plattsburgh in 1998, his property taxes have increased from $5,457 to $17,000.
“Now, you expect the taxpayers to shoulder your failures,” he said.
‘NOT ETCHED IN STONE’
Brian Hammond said he has lived on Cumberland Head since 1976 and loves it here. He said the town has done a terrific job in attracting businesses and did a great job in repairing Cumberland Head Road after it received it from Clinton County.
He asked what the formula is to determine who gets what percentage of sales-tax revenue generated in the county.
Deputy Supervisor Martin Mannix said the state gets half of the money. The county then gets about 60 percent, and the city gets 23 percent of the half that is left.
The towns in Clinton County split the remainder based on assessed valuations in each, but that doesn’t include properties with payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements. The Town of Plattsburgh receives about 28 percent of that, Mannix said.
Wednesday, Bassett said he was pleased with Tuesday night’s turnout for the hearing.
“It’s important to hear from everyone. We understand their concerns,” he said.
He was concerned that many people seem to feel the tentative budget is etched in stone. There will be additional cuts before the preliminary budget is available, expected by the end of the month.
A public hearing on the preliminary budget has to be held by Nov. 7. That can then be amended to create the final budget, which must be adopted by Nov. 20.
Bassett said the Town Council could vote on the local law as early as its next scheduled meeting, set for 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, at Plattsburgh Town Hall, 151 Banker Road.
Email Dan Heath:firstname.lastname@example.org