NISKAYUNA: Budget under fire

The contentious battle for seats on the Niskayuna town board is heating up, and both sides are vying for leadership in holding the line on property taxes. Spending cutbacks came to the forefront in the election campaign after Town Supervisor Luke Smith rolled out a $12.5 million budget proposal that initially included an 11.4 percent property tax hike. That's in addition to the tax increases some homeowners expect to face when Niskayuna completes its ongoing reassessment.

After a firestorm of criticism from both sides of the aisle, Smith cut the estimated tax increase to a more palatable 9.9 percent after eliminating funding for a vacant position in the police department and making several smaller changes.

This week, town board member Liz Orzel Kasper went even further proposing sweeping changes to the budget including: the elimination of pay raises for non-union employees, a halt on unnecessary purchases and a one-year hiring freeze. Two other Democrats for spots on the town board, Joseph Landry and Julie McDonnell, also lined up in support of Kasper's proposal.

I think people are scared when they see double-digit tax increases, Kasper said. "We're going through reassessment, people are paying their school tax bills and then they are seeing a proposed tax increase that is in the double digits. It's too much and they're very concerned out in the community.

"I know what I'm proposing for the budget aren't what I would call friendly amendments, but they are steps we have to take when we are facing this kind of budget," said Kasper. "I'm not sure if I'll have the votes, but something needs to be done."

The budget cuts have been unveiled after the original plan came under heavy fire from J. Briggs McAndrews, a former school superintendent and Republican candidate for town supervisor, who has said not enough has been done to spread out local debt service payments. Illustrating his point, McAndrews likened the tax impact of multiple debt service payments to a "perfect storm."

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