Pain for town taxpayers
With sparse public attendance, the Montgomery Town Board adopted a final budget last week which entails an increase of 16.58 percent. The board had voted unanimously the week before to adopt a local law overriding the tax cap.
The move translates to a $162.33 increase on a home with an assessed value of $200,000, located within the villages of Maybrook, Montgomery and Walden. For town residents outside the villages with the same assessed value, the increase is $114.94. Those with higher assessed values will see larger increases in their town tax bills.
“The only way to get this to go down is to basically eliminate a whole department and I don’t think that’s the thing to do on a one-year problem,” said Town Supervisor Mike Hayes.
The department on the chopping block was Dial-A-Bus and Senior Transportation, which Hayes estimated would save the town $310,000. The move would mean laying off all of the employees for those programs with the exception of one person.
“All of that would have to go and we still wouldn’t come up with $500,000,” said Hayes.
According to Hayes, the A fund, which finances services afforded to all of the town’s residents, including those residing in the villages, is the hardest hit this year with a drop in revenue of more than $500,000 and a large increase in expenses.
“I just don’t think you can cut the senior buses,” said Town Councilwoman Cindy Voss. “We get letter after letter about how they depend on that.”
Part of the revenue loss is from the rental property located next to town hall. The town’s tenant vacated the space back in the spring which resulted in a revenue shortfall for the current year, as well as no anticipated revenue for next year. The rent was about $128,000.
Hayes said the other major drop in the revenue for the A fund was last year’s return of $372,024.97 in one lump sum from the B fund, after a court decision determined that the town should have paid for costs from a previous lawsuit from the B fund. He explained that these funds resulted in a lower tax rate for the A fund last year. This year the A fund does not have that same revenue and the rate is coming back up.
On the other side, the rate for the B fund shot upward last year at the sudden expense to the A fund, and this year the rate is falling back without that expense.
The budget also includes an increase of $4,717 for the Walden Library and $76,500 for cemeteries.
At the public hearing held the previous week, the board voted unanimously for the two items. The library increase was to offset an increase in expenses such as medical benefits. The large sum assigned to the cemeteries was done as a preventative measure.
Hayes explained at the hearing that if a cemetery goes under and is abandoned, the town is responsible for it. In the case of an active cemetery which still has available plots and burials, the town would have to take on scheduling burials, plot sales and other factors in addition to maintenance.
“We’ll be in the business of burying people,” said Councilman Mark Hoyt.
Voss noted that a couple of active cemeteries within the town are currently having problems and fighting off bankruptcy.
At present, the town mows four cemeteries in the town (no new burials) and there are four operating independently with burials. A recent provision passed by the state now allows local cemeteries to approach their municipality for funds, thus keeping them afloat and saving the municipality from the full burden of running the cemetery. Two have approached the town and provided some financial documentation.
Last year’s budget had $3,500 for the maintenance of cemeteries and Hayes initially proposed adding $20,000 to that line in response to the cemeteries’ request.
“I’m just concerned that won’t be enough,” said Voss.
The board agreed at the public hearing to increase the line to $80,000, with no exact plan on how to administer the funds, as the town has never had to do it before. Hayes explained later that the board does not expect to budget the same amount next year, rather they hope not to expend all of those funds and carry a balance into the next budget.
Hayes stated at the public hearing that the town will not be expending its fund balance to force down the tax rate, as his projections show that it will be depleted by 2015 if they continue to use the same amount. The current budget uses half the amount of fund balance they used last year, or $312,500 for the A fund and $387,500 for the B fund.
“I don’t want to see taxes go up, but I don’t want to see us in trouble in two years either,” said Voss.
At the end of the public hearing, the increase rested at 15.6 percent. By last week, it had inched upward to 16.58 percent due to receiving updated figures including a tax certiorari decision for a PILOT.
Hayes said in the week’s time he had not found any other solutions or areas to cut from the budget.
“We’re not going to just reach in here and find $500,000,” said Hayes.
“The change we could make, I don’t think is an option,” said Voss, referring to the elimination of Dial-A-Bus and Senior Transportation.
The board voted to adopt the budget at an increase of 16.58 percent. The new tax rates will be 1.4946 for the A fund and 2.8322 for the B fund.
“Unfortunately, the budget is what it is,” Hayes said, noting that the B fund is making its last payment in 2014 on the Landmaster lawsuit. “After next year, the lawsuit will finally be put to bed.”
After the meeting, Maybrook Mayor Dennis Leahy said he did not agree with the supervisor referring to the return of misappropriated funds as “revenue” to the A fund.
“To count it as revenue is a double tax,” said Leahy, saying the town was simply transferring money back between the two funds and it should have no bearing on the tax rate. “He needs to not use the village as a scapegoat for loss of revenue.”
By RACHEL COLEMAN