Press-Republican

September 28, 2013

City budget presents 2.32 percent tax-levy hike

By JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — The proposed 2014 budget for the City of Plattsburgh would increase the tax levy by the maximum amount allowed under the state cap.

The levy is slated to go up 2.32 percent in Mayor Donald Kasprzak’s proposed plan, while the tax rate would go down 1.5 percent.

Kasprzak presented his budget plan Friday. It features a proposed tax rate of $10.59 per $1,000 of assessed property value, and a total levy — the amount to be raised by taxes — of $9,877,470.

“This budget was as difficult as any budget I’ve done since I became mayor in 2007,” he said.

“We’ve had increases again in retirement, health care, employee benefits and personnel costs, and they all have an impact.”

‘NECESSARY INCREASE’

The City Charter requires the mayor to submit his budget proposal by Oct. 1 of each year. The Common Council then has until Jan. 9 to make changes and approve a final package.

Despite the increase in costs, Kasprzak said, his budget plan meets the state-imposed tax cap, which for the city will be 2.32 percent.

The cap for 2014 is based on a 1.66 percent rate of inflation set by the state and a .66 percent rate of growth for the city, which is allowed under the state guidelines.

“While I understand any tax increase affects each and every city resident and business owner, to maintain the level of services the taxpayers expect and deserve, this increase is necessary in 2014,” the mayor said.

“My budget, however, does not include increases in the city water, sewer, garbage or electric rates for 2014.”

FUND BALANCE

To produce his $54.2 million budget package, the mayor used about $1.8 million in fund balance, leaving only about $722,000, which is about 3 percent of the general fund, below the state-recommended 5 to 10 percent.

Councilor James Calnon (I-Ward 4), who as mayor pro tem serves as the city’s budget officer, said he is concerned about the low fund-balance projection but figures it might increase based on what is left over at the end of this year.

“We will take a look at it and analyze it and see what might be left over, but we definitely will know a lot more by the time we have to approve the budget,” Calnon said.

OCT. 10 HEARING

A public hearing on the budget is set for 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, in Council Chambers, City Hall. Calnon said he will set the budget schedule after that.

The sitting councilors and any council candidates can participate in budget discussions before the Nov. 5 election, and councilors-elect can take part after the election, Calnon said.

Budget sessions are open to the public.

All six council seats are up for vote, and Chris Jackson (D-Ward 6) is the only councilor running for re-election.

Calnon and Mark Tiffer (D-Ward 2) are vying for the mayor’s seat.

Chris Rosenquest is in the race for mayor as a third-party independent candidate.

“We will have time to get into the nitty gritty of it, and the councilors-elect will have a voice, and ultimately, it will be the new council voting on the budget,” Calnon said.

The new council will take office Jan. 1, 2014. 

CANDIDATE REACTIONS

Calnon said the first order of business is to hear from city department heads.

“We need them to tell us what they are looking for and how this plan will play out and what changes might need to be made,” he said.

Tiffer said the mayor’s proposal seems like a good starting point.

“Each year that I’ve been here has been challenging, but I believe due diligence and prudence has been used, and I look forward to going over it more closely and coming up with amendments that will balance our tax rate with the level of services that people have come to expect,” he said.

“The tax cap has made it difficult for us to generate enough revenue to maintain the services we have. It’s a challenge.”

Rosenquest said Friday that he wanted to go over the budget in more detail before he commented on it.

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com