COLONIE — The preliminary, $96.6 million 2019 budget presented to the Town Board by Supervisor Paula Mahan represents 5.28 percent more spending – mostly due to negotiated salary increases – and calls for a 7.5 percent tax increase.
Because it exceeds the state imposed 2 percent tax cap, to get the spending plan into place without modification will need the approval of a super majority of the Town Board, or a “yes” vote from five of the seven members.
If approved, the budget represents to the homeowner an increase of 29.8 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The owner of a median value home in Colonie would see a net tax increase of about $42.57 per year, or $3.55 per month, according to the narrative attached to the preliminary budget prepared by Acting Comptroller Chris Kelsey.
While the tax rate increase does sound high, Mahan said for each 1 percent, the town gets about $250,000.
Residents paying Latham Water District rates will also see an increase of 1.3 percent. That represents about a $3.75 per year increase, according to Kelsey’s narrative.
Rates for homeowners tied into the Pure Waters Department, known as the sewer district, will increase by about $1.50 a month.
Fees will also increase by 6.7 percent to help offset the spending increase spending. For example, police fees, like fines and forfeited bail, are projected to generate $240,000 in 2019, up from $180,000, and EMS is expected to generate $1.1 million more next year over this year.
Mahan said, the great majority of the spending increase is due to negotiated raises given to the town’s some 500 employees, most of whom are represented by one of seven unions. Six of the contracts were negotiated last year and this year, and include raises which average out to about 1.25 percent per year over the four-year life of the contract.
Just employees in the union representing EMS is still outstanding.
Kelsey previously said the town used proceeds from a recent $1.7 million sale of the Community Center on Central Avenue to cover any salary increases in this year’s budget, but since that is a one-shot source of revenue – and taxes are recurring – the expenses have to be covered going forward to achieve a balanced budget.
“It is a minimal increase and we feel our employees do a good job,” Mahan said. “We don’t want to lay off people, and those people would come from the general fund, the police officers, and EMS and DPW employees. “We needed to exceed the tax cap to get us to where we needed to get to cover the wages and health insurance and benefits for the employees.”
In Colonie, a 2 percent tax increase on paper, based on state formulas, would in reality equal a 3.4 percent increase, Mahan said.
Non-union employees, most of whom are appointed by Mahan, will also see about a $3,000 per year bump in pay reflected in this year’s budget.
Mahan will see her salary go from $123,006 to $126,081. The deputy town supervisor, Town Board member Linda Murphy, will see her salary go from $21,918 to $22,466 and each of the other five board members will see their salaries increase from $21,479 to $22,016.
The comptroller’s line will increase from $111,901 to $114,699, the town attorney will see a bump to $113,663 from $110,891, the commissioner of public works will see his salary jump to $125,101 from $121,008 and the police chief will see his salary go from $129,292 to $135,186.
In all, salaries for town employees will increase from $38.8 million in 2018 to $40.1 million in 2019, a 4.4 percent increase. The cost of providing employee benefits will increase 5.4 percent from $23.5 million to $24.7 million.
The cost of health care alone is projected to increase by about $900,000 in 2018, Mahan said.
There were also some new hires including a School Resource Officer which will bring the Police Department up to 115 officers, a hire in the Department of Public Works and a senior planner.
Debt service will increase by 17.4 percent, from $9.2 million to $10.8 million. Mahan said the majority of that is borrowing for infrastructure improvements in the sewer and water departments. Despite a recent report by the Comptroller’s Office that said the town inched towards fiscal stress in 2017, Mahan said the town’s debt level has not changed.
“All the numbers are the same but we chose to borrow by using BANs rather than straight borrowing and we got a lower interest rate and we saved money, about $150,000 a year,” she said.
BANs are Bond Anticipation Notes, which offer lower rates for five years, and Mahan said the town’s practice is to incur new debt only as old debt is paid off so the payment equals about $2.5 million a year.
That, she said, is acceptable by the state, as is the fund balance of $5.9 million, which is actually about $1.9 million more than the Comptroller’s Office recommends.
“We have cut about every bit of waste we could since 2008,” Mahan said. “We have some things to consider like salaries and benefits and we are progressing in the right direction. We don’t want to go backwards and that is why we are recommending to the board we exceed the tax cap.”
The state too changed how it issues its annual rebate checks. While it was given to residents living in municipalities that stayed below the 2 percent tax cap, that caveat is instead now tied to school districts.
The board will likely hold a public hearing on Nov. 8 regarding the local law necessary to exceed the tax cap, and then will have to hold one on the budget itself. By state law, the budget must be adopted by Nov. 20, so the board may need to call a special meeting between the regularly scheduled meetings on Nov. 8 and Nov. 22.
The entire budget can be viewed on the town’s website by clicking here.