Saratoga County

Proposed Halfmoon budget remains tax-free

The proposed 2012 Halfmoon town budget holds the line on general spending and includes a small incre

The proposed 2012 town budget holds the line on general spending and includes a small increase in highway spending, while extending a 26-year streak of budgets with no town tax.

Town Supervisor Mindy Wormuth said spending remains relatively flat compared to last year, at $15.1 million, even while the town pays for mandatory increases in retirement and health insurance costs. The town is able to pull off these increases without layoffs or cuts to services, she stressed.

“We did it through attrition,” Wormuth said. “As positions left, we combined them.”

Although overall health insurance costs increased, they would have gone up more if the town hadn’t done healthy living promotions with its employees, Wormuth said. The insurer offered discounts for those promotions, which included a health fair.

Even with these savings, the town still used slightly more than $1 million from its “rain day fund” to bridge the gap between estimated revenue and proposed expenditures. “This is the prudent thing to do instead of layoffs or cutting services,” Wormuth said.

Even after tapping into the reserve fund, the balance would still fall well above the level recommended by the state comptroller, she noted. Wormuth added that tapping the reserve fund is still a viable option for the future to prevent the imposition of town taxes and to assure certain “amenities” are provided.

The town does impose fees to pay for its special districts, which include lighting, sewer and water.

Democrat Deanna Stephenson, who is running against Republican Wormuth in next month’s election, argued that the outlook for the town’s budget is not optimistic. In a released statement, she contended that the budget represented a mirage, where money was being moved around to make it look like conditions are better than they are.

She also lambasted Wormuth for implementing a “budget freeze” last week.

Wormuth said the budget freeze has been put in place around this time for the last three years and has resulted in savings each time. Through the freeze, department managers need to have all expenditures over $100 approved by the supervisor, even if they were already appropriate and there is room in the budget.

This was in keeping, Wormuth said, with the town’s “conservative” approach to budgeting, which she said was embodied in sales tax projections. “They are much more conservative this year than they were last year,” she said.

Overly optimistic sales tax projections have created a budget hole for the county, but Wormuth said the town will avoid this kind of surprise at the end of the year. She said there is a chance the sales tax projections may be too low, but she felt it was better to hedge their bets, “based on the current state of the economy.”

The town carries about $45 million in debt from funding large projects like the town hall and a water treatment facility. She felt this amount was reasonable, as it is far short of the town debt limit of $330 million.

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