Board considering tax-cap override

T he town board discussed a local law that would override the state’s tax cap which prevents municipalities from increasing the tax levy by more than two percent in a given year.

The board proposed the law at their monthly board meeting on Oct. 12.

The law, if it’s approved, would give the town the right to exceed the two percent cap Governor Cuomo signed into law earlier this year.

Without the law, any increase beyond two percent would have to come from the towns fund balance, which many municipalities often use as a hedge against unforeseen expenses.

“The law would allow you to go over if you need to,” budget officer Kathy Jones said. “It’s a safety net.”

Town attorney Christian Morris told the board municipalities can exceed the cap but there are certain limitations and the state is likely to review very closely any towns that override the cap and the law will need to be worded perfectly.

Supervisor Richard “Geezer” Gordon said the preliminary budget as it stands now is calling for a ten percent increase in the rate, which budget officer Kathy Jones said equates to about .51 on every $1,000 of assessed value.  

 “I’m going to cut as much as I can,” Gordon said. “I’m a firm believer the people inWhitehallare taxed enough. I’m not in favor of the local law; I want to keep it capped at two percent.”

Although it’s safe to assume most residents are in favor of keeping their tax rates low, whether that can effectively happen with the state failing to address mandate relief remains to be seen.

Whitehall’s budget is usually in the ballpark of a million dollars meaning it doesn’t take much in expenses to exceed two percent.

Jones said the town could exceed two percent this year simply because of the state-mandated increase in retirement benefits.

“It’s (the two-percent cap) all a sham. It hamstrings and short changes local government. They don’t care about small towns,” Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company president Brian Brooks said, adding that the cap doesn’t apply to the state budget.

Brooks said there are often unforeseen expenses that emerge later that make a two-percent cap problematic. Not to mention that if the town completes its proposed move to the Skenesborough Volunteer Fire Company they will have to pay the company $20,000, in addition to any expenses occurred during the actual move and subsequent renovation of the fire house.

Town clerk Elaine Jones said it was better to pass the law and have it available if they needed it than to not pass the law and not have it available.

“It’s better to air on the side of caution. We don’t have to use it if we don’t need it,” she said.

The tax cap was passed earlier this spring and limits municipalities and schools to a two percent increase in the tax levy, or the rate of inflation (about 3.8 percent), whichever is lower.

Local governments can override the tax cap with a 60 percent vote, which means only three out of five members of the board have to approve the increase.

However, any increase above two percent is required to come from the town’s fund balance, unless they pass a local law that would allow them to make up the increase by raising taxes.

The board will hold a public hearing on the proposed law at11 a.m.on Oct. 25 and will present their budget to the public at7 p.m.on Nov. 9.

 

In other matters, highway superintendent Louis Pratt told board he had completed an inventory of the department and presented it to the county, a requirement of any town that hopes to receive CHIPS money.

He also reported that the town and village had completed work at the Troy Shirt Factory. A perimeter drain had been put in which Pratt believes will take car of flooding caused by runoff.

He said black top was also installed down toVillage Street.

 

In other matters the board approved theRec.Centerto hold a youth dance sponsored by the Police Benevolent Association on Nov. 18.

The dance will be held for students in sixth through ninth grades and attendees are asked to bring a food item to donate to the Whitehall Food Pantry in lieu of payment.

WhitehallRecreationCenterdirector Daniel Welsh also asked the board if he could flood half the tennis courts later this winter for use as a skating rink.

The board asked Welsh to determine the cost and resources that may be available before they grant a final decision.

 

The next town meeting will be held at7 p.m.on Nov. 9.

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