by DAN HEATH
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Town of Plattsburgh has dramatically whittled down its tentative 2014 tax-levy increase, from 47 to 16 percent.
The tax levy in the preliminary budget is now set at $3.64 million, up from $3.14 million in the 2013 budget.
It includes the money to be raised by property taxes for the highway fund and the Consolidated Lighting, Sewer, Water and Ambulance districts. It does not include the town’s fire districts, where the budget is set by each fire department.
OVERRIDE STILL NEEDED
The levy had been $4.58 million in the 2014 tentative budget but was reduced by $806,642.
The total preliminary budget, including fire districts, is set at $15.85 million, down from $16.14 million in 2013.
To stay under the New York state property-tax cap, the levy would need to be $3.25 million or less.
The 16 percent tax-levy increase in the preliminary budget is 12.1 percent over the tax cap, requiring that the Town Council pass a local law to exceed it.
Town Supervisor Bernie Bassett said town officials always knew they were going to make significant cuts to the tentative budget, which he described as a wish list for each department.
Due to the deadline for filing the tentative budget, there wasn’t time to make cuts before it was released to the public.
“We knew we were going to make changes. We began working on that immediately with our departments to reduce the 2014 budget,” he said.
“The numbers we have are significant when compared to the tentative budget and I think indicate a reasonable change over last year.”
LEVY, RATE PARED
The tax levy in the highway fund has been reduced to $1.07 million from $2.3 million, which dropped the tax rate from $2.11 per $1,000 of assessed value to 99 cents, still up from 72 cents in 2013.
A taxpayer whose property is assessed at $150,000 would pay a highway fund tax of about $148.50 next year, up from about $108 for 2013.
Town officials lowered the figure by budgeting an additional $850,000 of projected sales-tax revenue for the highway fund.
Most of that was $526,400 from the $2.96 million in sales tax that was budgeted for the general fund. Also used was $323,600 from the $359,314 difference between the county’s sales-tax projection and the $3.2 million the town included in the tentative budget.
Bassett said the preliminary budget cuts his salary to $69,000, down from $72,710 in the tentative budget.
The deputy-supervisor position has been eliminated, and the salaries of town councilors are set at $13,000, down from $14,409 in 2013.
Salaries in all departments, including administration in the Water and Sewer and Highway departments, are frozen at 2013 levels.
One position in the Buildings and Grounds Department and one in Parks and Recreation have been eliminated. A vacancy in the Highway Department will not be filled.
Health-insurance plans with lower premiums are being negotiated. Conference funding for all departments has been reduced.
Bassett said the preliminary budget will help the town start to rebuild its fund balances, as strongly recommended by the State Comptroller’s Office and its fiscal stress monitoring.
Depending on how things go, the fund balance could be between $35,000 and $200,000 for 2014.
The town had used up its fund balances in order to stay below the property-tax cap the past several years.
Town Council candidate Bill Brudvig, a Republican, said he was pleased to hear the town has trimmed $800,000 but wants more cut.
“I think they should look further to stay under the cap. They should also include all of the sales-tax revenue in the budget,” he said.
Brudvig said he would also like to see the sales-tax money returned to Clinton County to reduce the county tax bills for town residents.
Candidate Michael Cashman, a Democrat, said he is opposed to any tax-cap override.
“From going door to door, street by street, I have heard resoundingly that the (town) residents are opposed to a tax-cap override,” he said.
He wants to see where additional cuts can be made and would like to see the public more involved in the budget process in the future.
Incumbent Councilor Paul Lamoy, a Democrat, said he believes additional cuts can be made.
“I am opposed to going over the tax cap,” he said.
Lamoy said he understands that costs the town has no control over continue to increase but also realizes the town has to pay its bills.
Candidate Thomas Metz, a Republican, said he believes the town can find money on the revenue side to stay under the tax cap.
“They do not need to override the tax cap,” he said.
Metz said the town needs to find about $390,000 to stay under the cap. Most, if not all, of that could come through the remaining $35,000 in unused sales-tax revenue, he said, as well as an end-of-year sales-tax bonus, as the county remains ahead of projections.
“The override was unnecessary to begin with and remains unnecessary,” he said.
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A public hearing on the preliminary 2014 Town of Plattsburgh budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at Plattsburgh Town Hall, 151 Banker Road.