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Schenectady County budget lowers tax levy

Thursday, September 24, 2009
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— Schenectady County has adopted a budget that trims the property tax levy by 2.13 percent.

The county Legislature approved the $288 million budget Wednesday night unanimously, 14-0. Legislator Vincent DiCerbo, D-Schenectady, was absent. Legislators also unanimously approved the capital projects plan that includes $300,000 to build a sheriff’s substation in Duanesburg.

The proposed tax levy for 2010 is $65 million, a 2.1 percent decrease from the current levy of $66 million. The levy was $61 million in 2008, $58 million in 2007, $58 million in 2006 and $59 million in 2005.

Property owners will have to wait until December to learn how much their county tax bills will be, however. That’s when the state sets equalization rates and the county’s tax levy is proportioned out to its municipalities. The county’s budget takes effect Jan. 1.

“This budget strives to preserve core services while responding to taxpayers’ demands that property taxes be reduced and government cut spending like taxpayers have had to do,” said County Manager Kathleen Rooney.

The county is using $4.8 million in federal stimulus money it is receiving this year and is taking $2.1 million out of its $35 million surplus funds account to reduce the tax levy.

The budget includes $9 million in new spending and adds several new positions, including that of an engineer to handle management of mandated storm water requirements. It leaves unchanged county programs and services.

Rooney said while the county held the line as much as possible on expenditures, it had to pay nearly $3 million more into the state retirement system and $837,000 in Medicaid expenses not covered by federal stimulus money. The county also lost nearly $3 million in revenues from cuts in state spending and from a sour economy that affected sales tax receipts and interest income.

The 2010 budget includes no layoffs but contains an early retirement plan targeted at full-time employees with 25 years or more of service. The county expects to save $300,000 in 2010 through this plan, which takes effect Oct. 1.

Minority Leader Robert Farley, R-Glenville, and his caucus produced 32 amendments to the budget. “I believe these amendments have merit and provide for a stronger level of fiscal responsibility,” he said when presenting them Wednesday night.

Democrats defeated the amendments 9-5, with Judy Dagostino, D-Rotterdam, voting with the Republicans.

Democrats countered that under their tenure, they have streamlined government and made it more efficient. As part of efforts to control costs, the county has eliminated around 200 positions, changed its contract procedures, cracked down on welfare fraud and abuse and instituted a new health plan that has saved more than $20 million since 2004, Rooney said.

These changes have also produced a $33 million surplus funds account, the largest of any county in the region, she said.

The cut in the property tax levy comes in a crucial election year for Democrats. Seven seats on the county Legislature are in play this November, six of them currently held by Democrats. Democrats control the Legislature 11-4.

There are three seats open in District 3, representing Glenville and Niskayuna. In this district, Chairwoman Susan Savage, D-Niskayuna, Martin Finn, D-Niskayuna, and Brian Gordon, D-Niskayuna, are seeking re-election. They are facing Republicans Tim MacFarlane, Michael Mansion and Kurt Semon.

In District 4, consisting of Rotterdam, Duanesburg and Princetown, two seats are open. Judith Dagostino, D-Rotterdam, the legislature’s vice chairwoman, is seeking re-election. Running with her is Holly Vellano, a Conservative endorsed by the Democrats. On the Republican ticket are Mike Viscusi and Mary Barrie. Brad Littlefield is running on the No New Tax Party line.

Democrats Karen Johnson of District 1 and Philip Fields of District 2, both in the city, are running unopposed.

 
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