County proposes 3 percent tax hike

W ashington County Budget Officer Brian Campbell is thinking about the next four years when he budgets for today.

Campbell said Friday the only way to avoid a sizable tax spike is to accept a modest increase this year.

“Looking at it (the budget) one year at a time leads to spikes and the message from taxpayers has been loud and clear: ‘We don’t want spikes’,” Campbell told a small crowd gathered at the Whitehall Municipal Center during one of four public hearings held Friday throughout the county regarding its 2013 fiscal plan.

The $115 million spending plan contains a 3.08 percent increase in the tax levy.

Campbell said the budget complies with the 2 percent tax cap because the mandate allows counties to roll over a percentage of the previous year’s tax levy.

Starting in 2015, however, counties will not be able to roll over that percentage and will be bound to a 2 percent cap on the tax levy.

Campbell said the only way to comply with the tax cap without cutting too deeply into the county’s fund balance is to raise taxes by 3.08 percent this year.

“Last year we came in at 1.2 percent and if we had stayed 2 percent we would have been better off,” Campbell said.

According to a multiyear budget projection provided by county officials, the 2014 tax levy could only increase $900,000 from 2013’s nearly $29.5 million level. The maximum tax increase would drop to $685,000 in 2016.

And with costs expected to continue to increase, and with things like county highway projects already underfunded, Campbell said the county needs to keep its future options open by increasing taxes this year, before its loses its ability to do that.

That’s one reason why the board approved raises for some of its employees this year, Campbell said.

He said if the board had waited until 2015 to give out the pay increases, the county would have to dip into its fund balance to cover expenses and by law, the tax levy increase would be limited to about $700,000.

Campbell said the pay raises were given out so salaries of county employees are more in line with other municipalities across the state.

The total increase in salaries is expected to cost the county $147,784.

If the budget is approved, the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value would increase from $5.81 in 2012 to $6.17 in 2013. That means a property valued at $100,000 would see a $36 increase its tax bill.

Medicaid is by far the biggest expense for the county. According a breakdown of how every $100 of county taxes is spent, $22.92 is projected to pay for Medicaid in 2013. The Highway Department receives $12.06; Social Service programs and administration receives $11.42; and the Washington County Jail receives $11.36.

The 2013 tentative budget is dependent on the privatization of Pleasant Valley Infirmary, the five transfer stations and most of the Public Health Department.

It’s expected that if those are sold by the end of the year, some of the money will be shifted to the department of public works, which Campbell said has been “decimated” by budget cuts in recent years.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 10:05 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 16, at the county building in Fort Edward.

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