Press-Republican

Wednesday

November 21, 2012

Essex County lawmakers debate 2013 budget

ELIZABETHTOWN — Ways both easy and improbable were debated this week to reduce a possible 26.8 percent tax-levy hike in Essex County.

The proposed 2013 budget filed by County Manager Daniel Palmer has a tax levy of $20.5 million, up 26.8 percent from $16.2 million this year.

The state tax cap for Essex County would allow a 2.4 percent levy increase. The county is preparing to pass a local law to override the cap if enough cuts can’t be found.

“In order to get to the tax cap, you would have to get to $3.9 million in cuts,” County Manager Daniel Palmer said.

Equipment, buildings-and-grounds repairs, contract agency funding, “it all could be cut,” he said.

“The problem is if it (a deficit) reoccurs in the 2014 budget, you just have another gap.”

WHERE TO CUT?

In the tentative 2013 budget, the county tax rate would rise from $2.41 per $1,000 of assessment to $3.10 for 2013. That means county taxes would go from $241 to $309 on a $100,000 assessed home.

At a special meeting Monday afternoon, County Real Property Tax Services Director Charli Lewis gave a snapshot of taxes to the County Board of Supervisors, department heads and the public in attendance.

“Because your levy is going up 26 percent that does not mean your taxes will go up 26 percent,” Lewis said. “There are other factors that come into play.”

Reassessments, exempt properties and changes to the assessed tax base could all affect the rate, she said.

The county has $376 million in new or increased assessments, with a $7.8 billion total tax base for 2013, Lewis said.

The levy hike would drop down to 15.7 percent if $1.8 million in new equipment and vehicles were removed from the budget, Palmer said.

Deleting paving and associated expenses gets it down to an 11 percent levy increase, he said, with a $700,000 savings.

Other savings could come from cutting the Certified Home Health Agency visiting nurses program in Public Health, $394,000; senior meal sites, $46,000; and contract agencies, $676,000.

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