Press-Republican

December 3, 2013

Essex County overrides tax cap

By LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — No one from the public spoke at a public hearing Monday on the state tax-cap override planned by the Essex County Board of Supervisors.

The proposed 2014 county budget comes with a 15 percent increase in the amount to be raised by taxes, and the state levy cap for Essex County is 2 percent, so a local law to overcome the limit was needed.

After the hearing, the Board of Supervisors voted 15-1 to override the tax cap, with Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington) opposed and Supervisors Sharon Boisen (I-Essex) and George Canon (R-Newcomb) excused.

MORE CUTS

Preston said he would have supported further, deeper cuts to the county budget.

“I think we could have gotten to the cap,” Preston said. “I don’t think it would have been easy.”

The tentative 2014 budget has an $18.95 million tax levy, a 15 percent increase from this year.

The tax rate would go from $2.39 per $1,000 of assessment to $2.87.

FIVE-YEAR PLAN

The budget is part of a five-year plan by County Manager Daniel Palmer to restore the county to financial stability, with declining tax increases planned for each year until they get to 2 percent in the last year.

Total appropriations in the tentative 2014 budget are $94.9 million, with non-property-tax revenues of $72.9 million estimated.

FUND-BALANCE USE

A recent state audit criticized the county for allegedly using too much of its fund balance every year for the last three years to reduce the tax levy.

That use of the surplus fund took the amount from $24 million to about $5.6 million this year.

“I don’t see that we have a choice (on the cap override), with our fund balance,” Supervisor Gerald Morrow (D-Chesterfield) said. “We don’t have enough left.”

Palmer said the county’s cap allows no more than $398,000 in a levy increase to stay under the cap.

But chargebacks that the county adds to the levy for towns with tax-roll corrections and other costs total $283,000, leaving only a 0.7 percent ($144,000) tax-levy increase possible without the override.

“There’s no way we could get under the 2 percent tax cap,” Morrow said. “Are we going to go back and cut everything? People understand there’s a problem here. They’re not happy, but they understand there’s a problem.”

No one spoke at the public hearing on the budget last week.

BUDGET SESSION

A special meeting to fine-tune and pass the budget starts at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, in the Old County Courthouse at Elizabethtown. It is open to all.

The net budget is down $2 million from last year, Palmer said, and they still need a 15 percent tax increase to balance it.

“The amount you need is so far off from what you’re raising on the levy,” Palmer said. “You’re never going to get to it (without a tax hike).”

Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) noted that the local law passed Monday authorizes an override but does not require one.

Email Lohr McKinstry:lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com