T he town board unanimously approved its 2012 fiscal budget during a special meeting last Wednesday and homeowners can expect to pay a little more when they receive their tax bills next year.
The nearly $1 million budget calls for a 10.02 percent increase in the tax rate, meaning local property owners could expect to pay around $50 more on a property assessed at a $100,000 than they did last year.
The tax rate increases from $4.83 per thousand to $5.31 per thousand meaning local homeowners can expect to pay approximately $531 for a home assessed at $100,000. Using last year’s rate, a similarly valued home would have cost a property owner about $483.
Budget officer Kathy Jones said one of the primary reasons for the increase is because of the escalating cost of the state mandated retirement system.
When she was hired as budget officer, Jones said retirement benefits cost the town nearly $10,000 in 2009. In 2010, that figure more than doubled to $22,000 and for 2011 that number is expected to come in around $37,000. She estimates that it could reach $46,000 by 2012.
To help offset those costs, Jones used $20,025 from last year’s budget that went unspent.
“I’ve wrung every penny from this budget that I could, but the retirement benefits continue to go up,” Jones said. “That’s the biggest culprit.”
Because the expected increase is well above the two percent tax cap passed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature earlier this year, officials were left with two choices: dip into the fund balance to cover the increase in costs or pass a local law that allows the town council to override the cap.
The town held a public meeting regarding the creation of a law to override the cap on Oct. 25, and after no one stepped forward to provide their opinion, the law was approved by the board.
Supervisor Richard “Geezer” Gordon had contended earlier that he wouldn’t approve any budget that exceeded two percent, but after reviewing the numbers decided they had little choice.
“It could go up a lot next year or a little this year and a little next year,” Gordon said.
Jones said it was practically impossible to get the budget in under the two percent cap and that was even after the board declined to provide the necessary monies to fix the museum roof, which is desperate need of repairs.
“Unless you have a million dollar fund balance, which should never get that high, or you’re a town like Hebron that doesn’t use the state retirement system, I don’t see how you can get in under two percent,” Jones said.
The budget calls for $982,008 in expenses. The town expects to raise nearly $173,542 in revenues and has another $20,025 from last year’s budget that wasn’t used, meaning the amount that is expected to be raised by taxes is $788.441.
The biggest portion ($568,277) of those funds is allocated for the Townwide and Highway General Fund. Another $110,200 is used by the highway department for maintaining roadways outside the village.
$10,589 is used for code enforcement, the planning board and flags at the cemetery and $98,975 is allocated for fire protection.
That means a resident who owns a home assessed for $100,000 can expect to pay $424 for the Townwide and Highway General Fund. The planning board, code enforcement and cemetery flags cost a homeowner $11 and fire protection will cost someone $96 a year.
The board held a brief public hearing prior to approving the budget but no one stepped forward to speak.
The public hearing was the second such meeting the board has held. They had held a hearing on Nov. 9 but another was needed after the board made several changes to the budget.
Among those changes was the approval of an additional $5,000 for the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company to provide First Response emergency services in the town.
The Skenesborough Volunteer Fire Department had previously provided those services but the board stripped their contract and awarded it to WVFC, citing Skenesborough’s inability to respond to calls over the last few months.
The finalized budget also included a raise for the positions of budget officer, town clerk and highway superintendent.
The individuals who hold those positions had previously requested a ten percent raise, something they haven’t received since 2007.
The board had initially countered by offering a 2.5 percent increase, but settled on a three percent increase for the budget officer and town clerk and a five percent increase for the highway superintendent.