G’town feels tax cap’s noose getting tighter

GERMANTOWN—The Town Board began discussing the 2016 budget Monday, in a workshop meeting. Supervisor Joel Craig began by explaining that the 2% property tax cap is often not that.

In a mailing to her district last week, state Senator Kathy Marchione (R-43rd) reported that she had voted with the majority to extend the state’s “hugely successful” 2% property tax cap to 2020.

Mr. Craig, however, distributed a chart from the Office of the State Comptroller that reported a .73% Inflation Factor for January 1 to December 31, 2016 and gave taxing districts an Allowable Levy Growth Factor of 1.0073.

“They’re saying there’s basically no inflation,” said Mr. Craig. “It’s tough for local government when you have state mandates pushed down on you,” he said, and have no way to generate revenue to pay for them.

“How, as a small town, are we supposed to manage?” asked Councilman Matthew Phelan. “Last year we cut out a big piece of [highway] equipment because we couldn’t pay for it within the cap. Then we cut little things here and there. But our employees need to get paid.”

Columbia is one of the few counties in which sales tax revenue went up, Mr. Craig told the board. “It’s based on the price of gas,” he said. “When gas prices go down, that cuts into your revenues. I don’t think anyone wants gas prices to go up, but when gas is taxed so heavily, it’s revenue.”

Last year the town’s accountant said that the town’s fund balance was below the suggested amount.

“I agree with the basic principle of the tax cap,” Mr. Craig, a Republican, said Tuesday, “but the way it’s set up, it’s a constantly dwindling number, and it’s increasingly difficult for small towns, and school districts too, to manage.

“Ultimately,” he said, “unless the state re-evaluates the cap, the local municipalities will cut more services. So residents will have reduced taxes, but what is the net benefit?

“I think when the governor first set up the tax cap, he gave the number of municipalities, and the idea was, we have too many levels of government,” said Mr. Craig. In its 62 counties, New York State has 932 towns, 555 villages, 62 cities and 950 school districts, all of which are taxing entities.

“But people like their small towns,” said Mr. Craig.

In other business at the workshop meeting:

  • The board discussed with highway superintendent Richard Jennings using part of the Highway Department’s $60,000 reserve account toward a new vehicle, without completely depleting the account
  • Mr. Craig reported that at a September 11 preconstruction meeting on the sidewalk project, the contractor, A. Colarusso & Son, Inc., said it was too late in the year to start substantive work. Some work may be started along Palatine Park Road, but “serious work” won’t start until April
  • After much discussion, the board authorized maintenance director Anthony Cidras and the Highway Department to spend up to $2,000 to do “quick, eye-pleasing things” to the concession stand at the ball fields, where youth soccer is now being played. The roof can be painted with green roof paint already on hand. Mr. Jennings will go in with a backhoe, take up the concrete and put down some “nice stone.” Two picnic tables can be added for outdoor snacking, along with a countertop inside and rubber mats on the floor
  • Mr. Craig reported that Heather Gibbons would make a proposal to the board for a town brochure. In 2008 Germantown received a state grant of $10,200 for a three-town zoning map, said Mr. Craig, and the money was never spent. It can be “repurposed” and does not have to be shared with Livingston and Clermont. The board discussed the value of such a publication; the proposal will be voted on at a regular meeting.

All board members attended the workshop except for Michael Mortenson, along with about five others. The regular meeting is Monday, September 28 at 7 p.m.

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