T he Village Board of Trustees anticipates being able to comply with the state mandated property tax cap.
The board began working on its budget last week, and Mayor Peter Telisky said he expects to keep any tax increase at or below two percent.
“We’re going to try (to comply with the cap),” Telisky said. “There’s no reason right now to believe we won’t be able to do that.”
Last year’s tax rate was increased by 1.5 percent.
Members of the board met with various department heads last week to review budget requests and preliminary expenditures.
Telisky said he expects sewer and police expenditures to be in line with last year’s amount and is hopeful the village is closing the gap between water revenue and expenses.
The village’s water system was the subject of an audit by the state Comptroller’s office last spring which found expenses were exceeding revenue.
The village has since taken a number of steps to address the problem. Last year it increased water rates by 10 percent to increase revenues and has also begun to collect on unpaid water bills by users who reside outside of the village.
“We’ll see how close we are to closing the gap,” Telisky said.
The goal is to ultimately make the water system self-sustaining so that revenue matches expenditures.
Perhaps the biggest impediment to keeping taxes in check are unforeseen expenses like increases in insurance costs, something the village will be examining over the next few weeks.
The highway department is also a bit of a wild card.
“That’s the biggest variable because of snow removal and equipment repairs,” Telisky said.
Last year’s snow removal costs were lower than expected because of a relatively mild winter, and while this year has been slightly more prolific in terms of snow fall, Telisky said expenses are so far under control.
“Right now we’re in good shape. Not great, but good considering the weather we’ve had.”
The village also has some new debt from the purchase of a new truck and wage increases to factor in, but those are expected to be absorbed by nearly $20,000 of debt that is expected to come off the books.
The board expects to hold another budget workshop following its regular meeting on March 5 and plans to have a tentative budget in place later in the month.
In other matters, the board agreed to pay a refund of $3,452.45 to the owner of a commercial property on Route 4 that is occupied by the local Subway franchise.
The agreement was a bit of a formality because the village was legally obligated to provide the refund after the town agreed to reassess the property last fall.
The village does not have an assessor and instead permits the town to be the sole assessing agency for Whitehall meaning any action taken by the town must be followed by the village.
In October, the town agreed to reduce the assessment of the property from $315,800 to $250,000. That revised assessment was retroactively applied to 2010, 2011, and 2012, and will remain in effect for 2013 and 2014.
The owner of the property argued that since half of the building wasn’t occupied, the value of the property was depressed.
If the owner finds an additional tenant, the property would be subject to a new assessment.
The agreement also included a stipulation that the town would not be liable for payment of excess principal for the years 2010, 2011, and 2012. In other words, the town will not have to pay back taxes it collected in those years that were above the revised assessment of $250,000.
Trustee Ken Bartholomew voted against the resolution.
“Everyone’s taxes will go up because of this,” Bartholomew said.
Village declines to abate Canal Corp. bills
The village rejected a request by the town to abate the sewer and water bills at the New York State Canal Building.
The village has abated those bills at the Whitehall Municipal Center, the Town Highway Garage, and the Recreation Center, but argued that since the Canal Corp. building was used by tourists, those bills should be paid.
The next meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 5.