Town approves final budget


H oping to avoid future tax spikes, the Whitehall Town Council ratified its 2013 budget at last Wednesday’s regularly scheduled board meeting.

The $1.03 million spending plan calls for a 2.01 percent increase in the tax levy and a corresponding increase in the tax rate. The town was eyeing a 1.99 percent increase but the final assessment numbers released by the county last week pushed the increase above 2 percent.

Earlier this month the board passed a law to override the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap in case of unexpected expenses or increases in pension and medical benefits.

Supervisor George Armstrong said it could have been possible to keep the increase at 2 percent or lower, but it would have led to future spikes.

“We could lower it by using our fund balance but then we’d have to increase the levy by 10 or 15 percent next year,” Armstrong said.

The town is already using $32,400 from its unexpended fund balance, money that has no official designation and is often used to cover unexpected expenses that may arise during a given year.

After factoring in the use of the fund balance and revenues, the amount to be raised by taxes is $831,401.

The tax rate is projected to increase from $5.41 per thousand of assessed value to $5.52 per thousand, meaning residents can expect to pay $552 on a property assessed for $100,000, an increase of $11 compared to this year.

The budget includes a number of pay adjustments for employees, additional funding for the Recreation Center, and an additional $1,500 for the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Co.

The budget received the unanimous support of the board.

 

The board also approved the purchase of a 2013 International 7600 heavy duty tandem truck for the town’s highway department, as well as the purchase of a “dump and sander” for the truck.

The purchases are expected to cost $186,410.

The board set aside $25,000 in the 2013 budget to purchase the truck.

Officials chose to purchase the truck because of new environmental standards that go into effect next year and are expected to drive up the cost of equipment.

Highway Superintendent Louis Pratt said he expects to receive the truck in the spring.

 

In other matters, the town agreed to refund liability money in a tax assessment challenge with the owners of 246 Broadway, the property where Subway is located.

Town attorney Christian Morris said the payment will cost the town “in the low $900s” and would settle the dispute.

“As comparison the cost to challenge the settlement, just in attorney’s fees, would be two or three times as much,” Morris said.

The owners of the property challenged their assessment earlier this year, arguing that building’s value has been depressed by the inability to find a viable tenant in the other half of the building.

The owners argued that the property, which had been assessed for $315,000, should be reassessed for $125,000. The two sides agreed to meet in the middle and settled for $250,000, as long as several contingencies were met.

Under the agreement, the town will not be liable for the payment of excess principal for the years 2010, 2011, and 2012. In other words, the town will not have to refund taxes it collected in those years that were above the revised assessment of $250,000.

Normally, a municipality would be responsible for returning the overpayment.

The property will also be subject to a reassessment in 2013 and 2014 if the owners are able find a tenant.

The agreement was approved by all five members of the board.

 

The board also formally approved a resolution to give the Whitehall Historical Society $10,000 a year to cover the price of a roof replacement project at the Skenesborough Museum.

The historical society will use its own money to cover the cost of the project and the town will reimburse it on an annual basis until the full cost of the roof has been paid for.

“We want to make you whole in terms of that building,” said Armstrong.

The project, which has been scheduled to begin this month, has been pushed back to March because of concerns of how the weather could affect work.

 

The next board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at the Whitehall Municipal Center.

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