By DAN HEATH
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Town of Plattsburgh passed its 2013 budget with a 1.9 percent tax-levy increase, despite concerns from a local taxpayers group.
The final tally was up from a 1.2 percent increase in the tentative budget. The levy, which is the amount of the budget to be raised from property taxes, increased from $3.05 million in 2012 to $3.1 million in 2013.
Town Supervisor Bernie Bassett said the main increase came in the highway fund, where the tax levy went from $725,000 to $775,000. That increased the tax rate from 67 cents per $1,000 to 72 cents.
The budget decreased the 2 percent salary increases planned for Town Council members to 0.8 percent.
Several members of the Cumberland Head Taxpayers Association expressed dissatisfaction with the 2013 budget.
Cumberland Head resident Holly Sims said that while the town states that it has no general-fund tax, it does have a Highway Department tax and now a Consolidated Lighting District tax.
Sims said that when the town uses its share of Clinton County sales-tax revenue to help reduce its general and highway tax levies, it increases the cost of town residents’ county property taxes. Real tax relief can be achieved only through a reduction in spending, she said.
Sims would like to see all town financial documents displayed on the town website in a timely manner, rather than making them available only through a Freedom of Information Law request.
Richard Mudd of Cumberland Head said the Town Council members appear to have no idea of the impact of their actions regarding spending and the budget.
“The passing of this budget comes as no surprise to me,” he said.
Mudd said the council should realize it is working for the town residents, who are paying councilors’ salaries and funding part of the budget.
He has talked with many people who want to know more about how the town operates, he said, and the association members are eager to share the information they have.
“We are not going away,” Mudd said.
HIGHER COUNTY TAX
Former Town Councilor John St. Germain, a resident of Cadyville, said the town’s general and highway tax rates are kept low through the use of $2 million in county sales-tax funds. Because of that, he said, town residents pay $6.03 per $1,000 of assessed value in county property taxes compared to $2.95 in the Town of Schuyler Falls.
The town highway tax rate would increase from 67 cents per $1,000 to $2.27 per $1,000 if sales-tax money were not applied, St. Germain said. That compares to $1.54 per $1,000 in Schuyler Falls.
John Andrus, also of Cumberland Head, said he hopes the Town Council will be more transparent in the future. He reiterated his call for the council to freeze the budget at the 2012 level.
Andrus noted the town is one of only three in Clinton County that uses its share of sales-tax revenue to reduce its general-fund levy rather than apply it toward county property taxes.
The association previously said that the town had a $6.5 million surplus in its budget. The town countered it had a surplus of about $500,000 in its general fund.
Cumberland Head resident Debbie Blake said members of the association never said the town’s $6.5 million surplus was solely in the general fund but that it was spread through a number of lines in the budget.
“I know the information we put out is accurate,” she said.
Bassett said that, after checking with the town budget officer, he confirmed there is a $6.5 million surplus in the total budget. He said it’s illegal to shift that money from the department for which it was targeted and that auditors have told the town that its surplus should be increased.
He said it is not possible to freeze the budget at 2012 levels due to rising costs, such as insurance and retirement.
“I’ve heard the phrase ‘freeze the budget.’ I wish we could,” he said.
The council is making prudent decisions for the present and the long-term future of the town, he said.
“Your words have been heard, and they have been heard before.”
Email Dan Heath: firstname.lastname@example.org