Schenectady County

Schenectady County Legislature set to remove tax hike from 2012 budget

Majority Democrats on the Schenectady County Legislature plan to eliminate a property tax increase i

Majority Democrats on the Schenectady County Legislature plan to eliminate a property tax increase initially proposed in next year’s budget by boosting their sales tax revenue estimate by $1.2 million.

The Democrats will take action during tonight’sbudget adoption meeting in the sixth-floor Legislative Chambers. Their amendment will reduce the tax levy by $966,466, thereby eliminating a proposed 1.5 percent increase. The increase would have equated to a $13.60 per year increase in property taxes for a home with a full value of $142,000.

The county’s proposed budget for 2012 totals $295 million, up 0.7 percent from 2011. The county’s fiscal year begins Jan. 1.

Majority Leader Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, said the county’s sales tax receipts are up 8.8 percent compared with the same period a year ago. By the end of the year, the county expects to collect $88 million in sales taxes — or $3.6 million more than budgeted for this year and equal to what is budgeted for 2012.

“The new numbers continue to show that kind of growth, and we feel that it is conservative on our part to add an additional $1 million in sales tax revenues,” he said.

The county will close the year with a fund balance of approximately $40 million, a buffer against any change in sales tax projections, Hughes said. “There is limited exposure to the county because of the substantial fund balance we have.”

The Democrats have no plan to use the fund balance to offer a tax cut, Hughes said. “You try to find a balance between revenues and cost reductions. To have zero in this particular economic time is a significant accomplishment in itself,” he said.

The Democrats are also proposing to restore funding cut from the Meals on Wheels program for senior citizens and the Hamilton Hill Family Resource Center, a suicide prevention program.

County Manager Kathleen Rooney had cut $50,000 from the meal program, which would have reduced weekend deliveries. Hughes said the program is important to senior citizens and should be restored.

The county is giving the suicide program $60,000 to keep it running through 2012. The program was unable to replace state funding, which ends in December.

Minority Republicans, who control two of 15 seats on the Legislature, are offering two amendments of their own: a moratorium on the proposed construction of a 200-bed skilled nursing facility to replace the Glendale Home on Hetcheltown Road and designation of county-owned land near Glendale as parkland.

Minority Leader Robert Farley, R-Glenville, said the moratorium would promote accountability of the nursing home project. “We want to make sure there is a public hearing on it. We want to see a fiscal plan on this — there is no fiscal plan. And we want to be sure the state of New York certifies they will give us this money,” he said. “The state funding for construction of the nursing home is not guaranteed.”

Democrats contend the state will cover 85 percent of the estimated $50.5 million construction cost through enhanced Medicaid reimbursements to the county. The county will pay the remaining $7.5 million by increasing the private pay rate to the market rate. Private pay accounts for 11 percent of the coverage at the nursing home, with Medicaid covering 85 percent.

Jim Buhrmaster, R-Glenville, who is seeking re-election in District 3, comprising Glenville and Niskayuna, said people he has met “are saying slow down and let’s talk about the nursing home and spending $50 million on 200 people.”

Farley said the parkland amendment would preserve a popular spot near the nursing home used for sledding and nature walks. Residents became upset with the county when they learned the land was to be used for the proposed nursing home. The county has since moved construction away from the sledding hill.

“The issue of open space has been talked about for 18 months. [Majority Democrats] have approved open space legislation everywhere but in Glenville. We want them to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the record,” Buhrmaster said.

Hughes said the nursing home moratorium does not have support in the Legislature to pass and said the open space agreement “appears to be somewhat of a grandstand effort and that it seems odd to tie it to the budget.”

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