County eyes 2.6 percent tax increase

Spending, revenue both down

By Derek Liebig

A 12 percent drop in spending won’t result in lower taxes for Washington County residents.

Despite a $14 million reduction in spending, the bulk of which is the result of the county’s privatization efforts, Washington County Supervisors are eyeing a 2.6 percent increase in the tax levy to compensate for a $15 million reduction in revenues.

Although taxes will likely increase for the seventh consecutive year, Washington County Budget Officer and Hebron Supervisor Brian Campbell said the $100,900,537 budget is a step in the right direction.

He said the tentative budget moves the county away from what he characterized as the “survival mode” of the past several years that resulted in the decimation of the county’s highway funds.

“My goal this year was to start putting things back in,” Campbell said.

Restoring road money

During the economic downturn, the county has routinely taken money away from its highway fund to pay for other expenses. Because of that, the county has fallen behind on the paving of roads. Under ideal circumstances, at least 18 miles of road would be paved every year. However, that total has dropped to as low as five miles; 15 miles were paved in 2013. Campbell said the budget would allow the county to begin to restore some of that funding in a “sustainable manner” and supervisors have eyed a goal of 20 miles by 2015.

As a result, the county will increase its highway road project fund from $1.9 million to more than $2.4 million in 2014.

The tentative budget also includes a 2 percent salary increase for county employees, including the Board of Supervisors, and increases of more than 2 percent for the clerk of the board, building superintendent, probation director, deputy town clerk and (2) election commissioners.

Four new positions were also incorporated into the tentative budget: an economic development coordinator, a part-time planner, a senior account clerk for the IT department, and a computer specialist.

Ongoing privatization

The budget is largely contingent on the sale of Pleasant Valley Infirmary and although the sale will happen eventually, it’s not a give-in that it will happen before the end of the year.

“Right now, we need the three entities that are going to be privatized to be finalized,” Campbell said, adding that he spoke with administrators on Monday who believe the sale will happen by the end of the year.

If it doesn’t, any expenses incurred operating Pleasant Valley beyond the New Year will have to be covered by either the county’s fund balance or by making transfers from other areas of the budget.

Regardless of when the sale is finalized, the county will have to pay $2.8 million legacy costs in 2014.

And while the county’s privatization efforts will result in a decrease in spending, it will also result in a decrease in revenue. The county will lose more than $12.7 million in revenues as the result of privatizing Pleasant Valley and the transfer stations. Overall, revenues are project to decrease 15 percent.

Sales tax revenue up

The county will use $7.5 million in fund balance toward expenses and the budget projects a “conservative” increase in sales tax revenue. The county is expected to see more than $18 million in sales tax this year, but because supervisors have been unable to peg the exact reason for that increase, and because the number can fluctuate, Campbell’s budget includes only a $500,000 increase over last year’s total of $17.25 million.

The proposed tax levy is expected to increase from $29.4 million in 2013 to $30.1 million in 2014. Although that equates to a 2.6 percent increase, it still complies with the state mandated 2-percent tax cap after factoring in allowable exclusions.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled to be held at 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 15, at the county board’s monthly meeting in Fort Edward. A budget must be adopted by Dec. 20.

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