The county won’t increase property taxes even though it will be paying for new public infrastructure in the next few years, Board of Supervisors Chairman George Hargrave said Thursday.
County officials are looking at building a new animal shelter and a new public safety building, either of which would cost millions of dollars. Hargrave said the county will probably borrow to pay for them to avoid an immediate tax increase.
“Before we go to raising taxes, we would bond it,” said Hargrave, R-Galway, after delivering the annual State of the County speech to a Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Longfellow’s Restaurant in Saratoga Springs.
The county’s current property tax rate of $2.15 per $1,000 is the lowest in the state, but it is based to a large extent on a growing population and constantly increasing tax base.
“A county that has doubled in size in the last 35 years has to expect to make investments in infrastructure,” Hargrave said during his speech.
He hopes a new animal shelter can be built for $5 million, which is well below current cost estimates, with construction work starting next year. “The animal shelter we built in the late 1970s just is not adequate for the number of dogs and cats we now see,” Hargrave said.
The public safety building, which architects estimate will cost around $13 million, is a lower priority and can wait, he said. “But that’s just my opinion. The decision is up to the Board of Supervisors, and I’m only one,” he said.
With $500,000 in the current county budget for the animal shelter and $1 million for the public safety building, Hargrave said his goal is to have design work done and a reasonable schedule for their construction in place by year’s end.
The county is also building new water and sewer infrastructure. The projects now under way are to be paid for by the users.
Both Hargrave and County Administrator David A. Wickerham expressed confidence that Advanced Micro Devices will make a final commitment this year to build a $3.2 billion computer chip factory in Malta.
AMD officials have said they will file a zoning application and environmental review statement with the town of Malta on Monday, though that is still short of a final commitment to build.
The $67 million water project tapping the Hudson River “will be crucial to providing high-tech industries with the quantity and quality of water they need,” Hargrave said.
The $54 million sewer district expansion will raise current user rates from $120 to $170 per unit each year, but will also make room at the treatment plant for AMD and other new sewer users. “We expect in the long term for [rates] to return to where they are now,” Hargrave said.
In his part of the presentation, Wickerham said property taxes can only be controlled if state leaders agree to stop passing on unfunded programs to local governments and keep their word when they say state aid will be coming to the county and other local governments.
“I’m as upset about property taxes as you are,” Wickerham told the audience of about 100. “We all need to recognize the way to control taxes is to control spending.”
The state this year has set up a commission to study property tax issues, with an eye toward possibly imposing new caps.
“We should be focusing on spending,” Wickerham said. “Quite simply, if you control spending, you’ll control property taxes.”
Hargrave said the county’s infrastructure spending needs mean the county will have to carefully control its day-to-day expenses to keep taxes down.
“It’s going to be a tough year,” he said.
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Categories: Schenectady County