Schenectady County makes move to break tax cap

Legislature calls for public hearing to keep options open for county manager

— Buhrmaster said the county “absolutely should not” be seeking to override the tax cap.

“This economy is terrible and for us to be talking about going over the tax cap … the public needs to know exactly why,” Buhrmaster said. “Right now people don’t have an increase in their income, everybody is strapped and there is still more things we can do in the county.”

If during the hearing the public strongly supports exceeding the tax cap, Buhrmaster said he would “listen to them.”

Rooney said county officials are always looking at different ways to save money and run things more efficiently. She said each year is “a little more challenging,” but she is hoping to find more “creative solutions” to stave off tax increases or cuts.

Holding the hearing before she submits her budget provides more direction on the will of the legislature, she said, because she can only legally submit one budget.

Rooney didn’t provide any additional information on where budget calculations were falling and the probability the budget would exceed the tax cap should the legislature approve it. She said the cumulative effects of mandates have led to a difficult budget year.

Since 2003, the county has eliminated around 15 percent of the workforce through attrition, reduced contracts and maximized revenue, she said. County officials previously said cost savings measures during the last six years resulted in $20 million in savings.

“Comparatively, you have other counties with the same kinds of mandates (that) have increased their taxes over the last three to four years and we have not,” Rooney said.

Schenectady County Medicaid costs for this year are $33.9 million, which equals almost 53 percent of the real property tax levy. Next year’s Medicaid costs are projected to increase to $34.6 million, according to county officials. Also, pension costs are projected to be more than 21 percent of payroll next year, at a total of $8.8 million.

Dagostino said she was “optimistic” about next year’s budget.

“We have done all the right things,” Dagostino said. “This might just be a correction, it may not be a trend.”

She said she was not sure what the public would say at the public hearing. The legislature must adopt a final budget by Nov. 1.

“No one likes a tax increase, but I think the public realizes we have not taxed them … (just) to tax,” she said. “I think a general feeling of how (the public) wishes us to proceed is always important.”

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