Press-Republican

October 19, 2013

Franklin County wrestles with tax-cap options

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — Franklin County would use $1.1 million in reserves to keep taxes down in the tentative 2014 budget.

But that would still only get legislators down to an 8.76 percent tax-levy hike, which is not enough to keep the property-tax increase under the state-mandated 2 percent cap.

Legislators said they expect to override the tax cap by passing a local law as a precaution in the coming weeks.

The overall tentative budget is $103,623,666, an increase of 3.09 percent.

The amount to be raised by taxes is $16,178,524, an increase of 8.76 percent

The average tax increase for a property valued at $100,000 would be $35.28 were the tentative spending plan passed by the legislature.

‘THAT’S PAYROLL’

County Manager and Budget Officer Thomas Leitz offered ideas to slash the budget figures even more than proposed.

However, even implementing all them would only lower the tax-levy increase to 4.31 percent, leaving legislators to find another $363,500 in cuts to reach the 2 percent cap, he said.

“To get that much lower, that’s payroll,” Leitz said. 

And if legislators plan to lay off workers, he told the legislature, he wants to know as soon as possible so the Personnel Department can start researching and making suggestions on which jobs would be eliminated so budget adjustments can be made.

The options Leitz outlined during a two-and-a-half-hour work session Friday, along with a fourth discussed in executive session, show the county could:

▶ Borrow an additional $250,000 from a retirement-stabilization fund and repay it with a low-interest loan.

▶  Spend $176,000 from its highway-improvement account. 

▶ Eliminate four proposed new positions that would have cost $135,000.

▶  Take $100,000 from contingency to lower the tax-levy increase from 8.76 percent to 4.31 percent.

COUNTY AUDIT

The jobs created in the tentative budget include one each in the Public Defender’s Office, the Conflict Defender’s Office, the County Treasurer’s Office and the Probation Department.

Leitz brought up the recent audit by the State Comptroller’s Office, which cited the county for using too much of its reserve funds and for having too little in its contingency fund, which is recommended to have at least a $1 million balance “cushion.” 

But if the county puts less away, the rest could be put toward lowering taxes, he said.

“The comptroller can recommend it, but he doesn’t care about the tax levy in Franklin County,” said Legislator Paul Maroun (R-Tupper Lake). 

“He made us look bad. I’m not too concerned about having $1 million in contingency just because the comptroller says so.”

Timothy Burpoe (D-Saranac Lake) agreed, saying, “We’ve used (reserves) to soften the increases we were going to have, and we’re running out of cushion.”

“We made the choice to (use reserves) and stay under the tax cap, and we’ve gotten slammed for it,” said Legislature Chairman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay).

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com