By Krystle S. Morey
Expressing concern that the state is slowly consolidating villages into their surrounding towns by imposing a 1.15 percent limit on local budgets, the Granville Village Board voted unanimously to override the state tax cap and accept a $1.5 million budget for the coming fiscal year.
“We’ve been rubbing nickels and pennies together … trying to keep this as tight as we could,” said trustee Paul Labas. “The state has literally put a choke-hold on this community, and it’s a tight choke-hold. I don’t know what they are trying to achieve by it, but it’s kept us down for a long, long time.”
Deputy Mayor Gordon Smith said: “The revenue that you could generate from that tax cap doesn’t even cover one line item that’s increasing.”
The board approved a tax increase of 3.69 percent – and 3.75 percent tax levy increase – to meet what it describes as rising costs and declining revenue.
With the current village tax levy of $1,105,349, and general fund appropriations of $1,406,876, the state tax cap would limit increases in appropriations to .9 percent to maintain tax cap compliance.
Total tax revenues will increase from $1,406,876 this year to $1,453,288 under the budget, which will go to voters in May.
Of that, $30,000 will cover the salary of the Granville Central School District’s resource officer. That salary is paid for by the school, said village clerk Rick Roberts, “so village spending is only going up about $17,000.”
The average assessment in the village is about $99,000, so the tax increase would be $39.16 per household, per year – $3.25 per month.
Residents with village sewer and water services will see an additional $7 a month increase – $84 a year. Sewer and water increases do not affect the general fund budget; the water and sewer budgets are separate.
All board members touted the village’s efforts to maintain services and a “fair” budget and tax increase.
Mayor Brian LaRose said the board looked at proposed tax increases in surrounding communities, including Cambridge, Fort Edward, Greenwich and Whitehall, when developing the budget and making its decision to override the cap.
Whitehall’s proposed village budget contains no tax increase.
“In comparison to other municipalities in Washington County, only behind Hudson Falls, Granville is rated No. 2. I think that is a testament to this board, the folks who work in this village and their hard work on trying to keep the cost and services to the extent that we have today,” he said.
Labas cited improvements and equipment upgrades that are long-overdue, that are not possible because of state mandates.
“Nobody likes to see an increase in taxes. This is not something that we are doing with a big smile on our face, but this is something that has to be done for the betterment of the village of Granville,” Labas said of the cap override.
Stephanie Munger spoke up at her first meeting as an elected trustee: “We need so many fixes just to keep things running. If things fall apart right now, it’s not going to be great. We don’t have enough money to pay for those fixes, so I agree with overriding the tax cap.”
“There’s no room at all to build up your reserves at all,” trustee Dean Hyatt said of the cap. “That’s when we’re not fixing the house, we’re only maintaining the house … and actually losing revenue.”
“If we are going to maintain our identity, unfortunately, we have to break the cap,” Smith said.
“This is the price you pay for services. We offer a lot of services – summer concerts, spring pick-up – a lot of things you see in the village that you just don’t see in the town,” Hyatt said.
“This is a business. You have to run it like a business,” he said.
One of two community members who addressed the board during public comment at the meeting was Lindsay Schieffelin.
“We’ve got a situation where we have village that has revenue that is pretty static, other than taxes,” he said, citing rising costs, declining population and buildings in foreclosure as aspects of the village that frighten him.
“We’ve got a main street that’s practically empty. It’s like a ghost town,” he said.
Schieffelin pressed the board, suggesting it come up with a strategy to revitalize Main Street and attract more residents.
“I am concerned. If we keep going the way we are, we will keep sinking further and further … having to raise taxes,” he said. “It puts a burden on the people in the village and I don’t think incomes are going up in the village.”
Schieffelin made similar comments to the board last year during budget time.
“There’s got to be a way to find a path to start having surplus every year, instead of always having to rely on tax increases,” he said.
Schieffelin added: “I really think this has to be done or we are just going to be here every year, looking at another tax increase.”