Officials see gap ahead in 2009 budget

As they begin putting together next year’s budget, Montgomery County lawmakers are looking at $3.8 m

As they begin putting together next year’s budget, Montgomery County lawmakers are looking at $3.8 million more in spending and $250,000 less in revenues.

The preliminary budget would require an increase in the countywide tax levy of 12 percent to 13 percent, County Treasurer Shawn Bowerman said Friday, although using half of the county’s $14.2 million fund balance — leftover money from previous years’ budgets — would eliminate a tax hike.

“To bring this to zero on a countywide average, it would take a total of $7 million of fund balance based on department requests,” Bowerman said.

Appropriations sought by department heads for 2009 total $51.32 million; the current year’s figure is $51 million, according to the preliminary budget.

Total spending would reach about $84.35 million, compared with roughly $81 million this year.

Bowerman said he has not finished analyzing requests, but large departments including public works and the sheriff’s department are among those seeking staffing increases.

“Most departments, I actually commend them. A lot of the departments did hold the line and actually decrease their budgets,” Bowerman said.

Increased spending and decreased revenues will present a challenge in terms of determining the tax levy, Bowerman said, especially if county supervisors call for no increases in county property taxes, as they did last year.

Amsterdam Town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza said he is hoping to work toward no tax increase but said it will be tough to strive for a reduction in taxes for all municipalities.

“I would personally like to see no tax increase. I’m saying ‘stabilization,’ ” DiMezza said.

He said the gap between what the county wants to spend and what it expects to take in may rekindle the idea of increasing fees charged by the county clerk, as state legislation passed this year would allow.

DiMezza, who proposed increasing mortgage recording taxes last year, said the county board’s failure to do so eliminated a half-million dollars in potential revenue. “It’s lost,” DiMezza said.

A public hearing on increasing fees in the county clerk’s office is scheduled for Sept. 23. That proposal could raise an estimated $240,000 above the current $675,000 budgeted for these fees in this year’s county budget.

Minden Supervisor Thomas Quackenbush, chairman of the county board’s finance committee, said he hasn’t yet analyzed the preliminary figures but said the general idea on the part of the committee is to present a budget to the full board with no tax increase.

Boosting fees at the county clerk’s office, Quackenbush said, may help ease the process.

“Anything like that helps,” Quackenbush said.

Bowerman said he expects to start meeting with department heads to go over figures and seek reductions where possible. Ultimately, he said, he hopes to call for a slight tax increase to prevent leaving the county broke in upcoming years.

“My goal is to at least get it down to a respectable 2 to 3 percent increase if I can’t get it down to zero. For zero or a tax decrease, I think that’s going to be very difficult to get to and my concern is [supervisors] are just going to tap the majority of the fund balance to do that, which will put us behind the eight ball for this year or the year after,” Bowerman said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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