#ColonieTownBoard #2019Budget #JimFranco #SpotlightNews
COLONIE — The proposed $96.6 million budget proposed by Supervisor Paula Mahan has overwhelming, bi-partisan support from the body that has to pass it into law despite the fact it exceeds the state 2 percent tax cap for the first time in recent memory.
Five of the six Town Board members give the budget a thumbs up, with only Republican Jennifer Whalen saying if she had to vote on the spending plan today, it would be in the negative. Since it does exceed the tax cap it will take a super majority, five of seven when Mahan is included, to pass the spending proposal.
“I do not vote to increase taxes over the tax cap,” Whalen said. “I take umbrage with the fact we are going over the tax cap.”
She said she is still going through the budget, and meeting with town staff in an effort to find places to trim some money in order to get it below the arbitrary 2 percent tax cap imposed by the state, which in Colonie, based on the formula, is a 3.4 percent increase to the tax levy.
The budget, if not modified by the board, will increase spending by 5.28 percent, or $4.8 million, over this year. It will take a 7.5 percent property tax increase to balance.
The budget represents to the homeowner an increase of 29.8 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The owner of a median valued home in Colonie, about $225,000, would pay $42.57 more per year, or $3.55 per month, according to the narrative attached to the preliminary budget prepared by Acting Comptroller Chris Kelsey.
“It was something we knew about last year so this is not a shock to the board of the administration. I would love to cut taxes but it’s just not practical,” said Town Board member Paul Rosano, like Mahan, a Democrat. “It is still a draft, and we are still going through it, but I don’t see anything drastic that we can change.”
Rosano, who is the board’s liaison to the Planning Department, scoffed at the idea development, and the perceived stress it places on infrastructure, is the reason behind the tax increase.
“When we start going down that rabbit hole, the first question I ask is where. Where is this new development in the town that will tax infrastructure?” he said. “Our town has capacity in fresh water and storm water and sewer so we are not over taxing them. The development of properties and the re-development of properties are adding to the tax roll.”
Mahan has said one of the main reasons behind the increase is to support the across the board salary increases negotiated with the town’s unions and their some 500 employees. Six of seven unions have a contract in place, and the salary increase equals about 1.25 percent per year for the four-year life of the contracts. Just employees with the EMS union have not settled.
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. Healthcare alone is projected to cost $900,000 more in 2019 than 2018. Non-represented, or appointed employees, and elected officials will also see an increase in line with the employees represented by the bargaining units.
Debt service will also increase to support capital projects in the water and sewer departments and there are some new hires. For example there is a new School Resource Officer at North Colonie, a new planner and a compliance officer to make sure the town workers and buildings are up to state and federal safety standards.
“We do as much as we can to control the inflation of our health care costs and to cap it at a certain amount but it is killing a lot of municipalities and we are not excluded,” said David Green, a Republican Town Board member. “If we tried to stay within the tax cap, we would have been sacrificing essential town services and they include programs for seniors and parks and rec. Our decision to go above the tax cap was weighed against our quality of life and seniors and parks and rec.”
He said the board worked with Mahan since May to get the tax increase down to the current proposal and that “it could have been worse.”
He too scoffed at the idea that development was behind the tax increase, saying rather the town leverages its desirable position among developers to get them to pay mitigation and other fees that are then spent on improving the town’s infrastructure and amenities.
Those sentiments were echoed by fellow Republican Town Board members Chris Carey, who is also running for the state Assembly.
“Our infrastructure has been in rough shape, like many upstate municipalities, before any of the new developments people are talking about. Some of our water lines are 50, 60, 70 years old,” he said. “That stuff needs to be replaced whether we have development going on or not. Two years ago we had 150 water line breaks, and they were not in any way related to development. It’s because our infrastructure is old.”
He said, like every other town resident, he does not want to see taxes go up but he doesn’t see an alternative.
“It’s hard when everything else around us is going up to think taxes are not going up too,” he said. “For a lot of years there were no increases and I think that may have something to do with it too. I would prefer to see a little bit at a time than have one big increase.”
Linda Murphy, the Democratic deputy town supervisor, said she thinks the budget is fair and makes sense given that the employees have gone two years without a salary increase and the aged infrastructure needs upkeep.
“At first glance it does look like a big increase but all the expenditures are generally reasonably explainable and everything makes sense,” she said. “I think pretty much everyone will be in agreement with it. I haven’t heard too many on the board complain.
“Colonie residents expect a lot for what they are paying for and they don’t want to pay a lot for what they get. Nobody wants their taxes to go up, myself included, but if you look around at other municipalities Colonie is doing pretty well.”
The public hearing is slated for the Oct. 25 Town Board meeting. The board will first have to enact a local law allowing it to bypass the tax cap and will also need to hold a public hearing on the budget itself.
Board newcomer Melissa Jeffers Von Dollen, a Democrat who is in favor of the budget as it stands, said she hopes people come to the meetings and voice their opinions and share their
“When you look at it close and break everything down, there is a lot of money going into salaries and benefits and we have great town employees who have not had an increase in a few years,” she said. “I think at the onset, it looks like something is wrong because Colonie is doing so well but when you break the budget apart it is reasonable.”
She pointed out that while the percentage is high, the net tax increase is not that much money per household and that because the state changed its policy focus regarding its annual tax rebate checks, it is up to the school district to remain within the tax cap rather than the municipality. So, as long as the school districts don’t exceed the tax cap, residents will still get the rebate checks.
“I am looking forward to the public hearings and engaging the public to see if they have any ideas or concerns,” she said.