Press-Republican

October 11, 2013

Tentative town tax levy up 47 percent

By DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Town of Plattsburgh’s tentative tax-levy increase for 2014 is 47 percent.

The levy would increase to $4.58 million from $3.14 million in the 2013 budget. It includes the levy for the highway fund, Consolidated Lighting District, Sewer Districts, Water Districts and Consolidated Ambulance District.

Town Supervisor Bernie Bassett emphasized that the figure is not final, that the budget so far includes what each department needs and also a wish list of what they would like to have.

HIGHWAY BUDGET

The largest increase is in the highway-budget tax levy, as the town is drastically reducing the amount of county sales-tax money that has, in the past, been used to offset expenditures.

Last year, the town allotted $1.38 million from sales tax for the purpose, but that amount is reduced to $250,000 in the tentative budget.

That would increase the levy for highway to $2.3 million from $765,000, up about 198 percent.

The tax rate would increase from 71.7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to $2.11. For a homeowner with a property assessed at $100,000, that would be an an increase of about $138 in highway taxes alone.

’SALES TAX NOT PREDICTABLE’

Bassett said he feels it’s important for highway maintenance to be funded by a property tax, as sales-tax revenue is not always predictable. 

The large tax-levy increase, he added, would also allow to town to build a highway fund reserve.  

The average for highway-fund tax rates in other municipalities in Clinton County is about $2 per $1,000, the supervisor said, so this brings the town in line with those rates.

NO GENERAL-FUND TAX

The total tentative budget represents a 3.2 percent increase, from $16.13 million this year to $16.65 million for 2014.

That includes a 5.9 percent rise in the general fund, from $3.67 million in 2013 to $3.89 million.

With this tentative spending plan, taxpayers would see the bulk of sales tax applied to the general fund rather than the highway fund. It calls for $2.96 million for the purpose, up from $2 million last year.

That would allow the town to once more zero out the general-fund tax.

NEED RESERVES

Bassett said the town doesn’t have reserves in either its general or highway fund, as those were used to keep previous tax levies lower. 

“We have spent our reserves. You can only do that once,” he said. 

The State Comptroller’s Office recommends that municipalities have those reserves and is watching for that as part of its fiscal-monitoring process.

A healthy reserve would be about 10 percent of the subsequent year’s expenditures, Bassett said. The tentative budget is intended to allow the town to build those funds.

’MUST EXCEED CAP’

The property-tax cap for 2014 is 1.66 percent. To meet that Bassett said, the town would have to limit its tax-levy increase to about $110,000.

That restriction is measured against the rising costs of retirement, insurance, fuel, road salt and other town expenses. 

The supervisor said there is no way the town could continue to maintain its services and infrastructure with only $110,000 more. 

It is that infrastructure that attracts business and industry to the town, he said, so it needs to be well maintained.

’WORKING ON IT’

The tentative budget includes 2.5 percent salary increases for elected officials, but those will not be included in the final budget, the supervisor said.

And the tax levy doesn’t include Fire District taxes, as those are determined by the individual fire departments that serve the town.

The Town Council, Budget Officer Diane Miller and Finance Manager Patrick Bowen will be holding additional meetings with department heads to determine what can be cut to create the preliminary budget and final budget. 

“This is a tentative budget. We know what we have to do, and we’re working on it,” Bassett said.

He said the Town Council could still decide to spread the increase over upcoming years rather than all at once; that decision is likely to come after a final budget is created. 

“Our goal is to create a 2014 budget so we won’t have to go over the cap again,” he said.

A public hearing has been set on a local law that would allow the town to exceed the state’s property tax-levy cap. The hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, at Plattsburgh Town Hall, 151 Banker Road.

Email Dan Heath:dheath@pressrepublican.com

+++++

SPECIAL DISTRICTS

The following Town of Plattsburgh districts are funded by tax levy, part of the tentative budget's 47 percent levy increase.

Estimated appropriations for the Consolidated Lighting District are $315,000, with $205,475 to be raised by taxes at a rate of 19 cents per $1,000, up from 15 cents per $1,000 in 2013.

Appropriations in the Consolidated Sewer District are $1.64 million, with $248,993 to be raised by taxes at a rate of 37.3 cents per $1,000, up from 36.7 cents this year. Appropriations in the Base Sewer District are $486,177, with $67,835 to be raised by taxes at a rate of $1.55 per $1,000, down from $4.67 in 2013.

Appropriations in the Consolidated Water District are $2.39 million, with $1.02 million to be raised by taxes at a rate of 94 cents per $1,000, up from 93 cents this year.

Appropriations in the Base Water District are $340,092, with $225,317 to be raised by taxes at a rate of $1.79 per $1,000, down from $4.61 last year.

Appropriations in the Consolidated Ambulance District are $1.01 million, with $463,290 to be raised by taxes at a rate of 38.5 cents per $1,000, up from 37.9 cents in 2014.

The fire districts' budgets are not part of the regular levy. Here are the tentative rates: