Schenectady County

Use of surplus trims Rotterdam tax increase

Rotterdam officials tapped the town’s surplus to trim nearly all of the tax increase included in the

Rotterdam officials tapped the town’s surplus to trim nearly all of the tax increase included in the preliminary 2009 budget.

Town Board members unanimously adopted the $19.9 million budget, which will increase the general and highway fund levy by 1.74 percent. The spending plan allocates about $1.5 million from the town’s $3.7 million fund balance to drop the residential tax increase from the 8.53 percent projected in the preliminary budget.

“In all my time on the board and as supervisor, this was one of the most difficult budgets,” Supervisor Steve Tommasone told about two dozen people attending the meeting Wednesday.

The adopted budget sets a residential tax rate at about $3.39 per $1,000 of assessed value. Residents owning a $175,000 home will pay about $584 in town taxes, not including special districts.

Under the town’s dual tax rate, commercial properties will realize a 2.3 percent decrease in taxes from the current year. Commercial properties will pay about $5.46 per $1,000 of assessed value, according to the spending plan.

Tommasone said the budget also excludes spending on all big-ticket equipment for the town. Any major departmental expenditures of this nature will now need Town Board approval.

“We will be looking very hard at large expenditures until the economy turns around,” he said.

In spending more of the town’s surplus, Tommasone warned the nearly flat town taxes next year could make the 2010 budget even more painful. Eventually, he said, the town would need to make up for dipping into the surplus during this budget cycle.

“We cannot duplicate this next year,” he said.

Board member Joseph Signore agreed. He said the town now faces a $1.5 million hole that will need to be plugged somehow.

“While we’ve enjoyed zero-percent tax increases for several years, continuously using the fund balance will catch up to us,” he said. “And that’s being honest.”

Board member John Silva wasn’t as pessimistic, but he said the board should do everything within its power to rein in costs.

“There are ways for us to aggressively manage our expenses without knowing what our revenues will be,” he said.

Board member John Mertz credited the budget for keeping taxes low. He said the town should start finding new ways to gain revenue.

“It’s very important, especially with revenues, that we think outside the box,” he said.

The decrease in the tax levy came after dozens of angry home and business owners spoke out against town spending last week during the budget hearing. Some argued the budgeted increases to non-contracted salaries were unwarranted during a year when town revenues are projected to drop, while others were critical of the budget for including new positions.

Former board member Joseph Guidarelli, who spoke against the budget last week, credited the board with producing a fair spending plan.

“When I left last week, I really felt like you guys listened,” he said.

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