Schenectady County Manager Kathleen Rooney proposed a 2013 budget that would increase property taxes increase by 7.49 percent after legislators soundly approved an override of the state-mandated tax cap.
Rooney’s budget proposed to county legislators Monday includes a total of $296,038,600 in spending. Spikes in mandated costs means the Legislature will need to raise more than $69.24 million in taxes.
“The cumulative effect of the cost in these mandates has caused us to take a different tack,” she told legislators during her budget presentation. “And there hasn’t been relief that we had hoped.”
The budget relies upon $5.6 million from the county’s general fund to ease the brunt on taxpayers. Layoffs were not included in the budget, but Rooney expects to lose 26 positions through retirement or attrition.
Under Rooney’s proposal, a resident with a $150,000 home could expect to pay about $948 in county taxes. This represents a $71 increase over this year’s budget, according to county figures.
In proposing the budget, Rooney said the mounting impact in the cost of unfunded mandates made it impossible to propose a flat tax rate or one that would fall beneath the 2.95 percent state-imposed tax cap without cutting funding to human service organizations or quality-of-life programs. She framed the tax increase in the context of the flat tax rate and tax decreases the Legislature approved in budgets proposed over a three-year period starting with the 2010 spending plan.
Rooney said the tax increase proposed in the 2013 budget would amount to only 1.23 percent were it spread between 2010 and 2013. She said the county would have collected $14.6 million more in taxes had it simply adopted a 2 percent tax increase over that same four-year period.
“When this county was making significant cuts in staffing … we didn’t tax and in fact, we reduced the tax levy,” she said.
Among the changes outlined in the budget, Rooney proposed a restructuring of the county Health Department.
Under her proposal, she said the health commissioner would be switched to a medical director at a cost savings.
$5.5M in cuts
In total, the budget includes $5.5 million in cuts. But Rooney said this figure is offset by reductions in revenue — such as a $700,000 dip from the recently passed sales tax agreement with the city of Schenectady — and mandated cost increases.
The full legislature is expected to begin reviewing the budget proposal at 6 p.m. today. A public hearing on the budget is being scheduled for Oct. 15, with the proposal expected to be acted upon by the Legislature on Oct. 17.
Immediately preceding Monday’s budget presentation, legislators soundly approved an override of the tax cap by a vote of 11 to 4. Democrats Tom Constantine and Angelo Santabarbara both opposed the measure; lone Republican James Buhrmaster and Conservative Holly Vellano also opposed the override.
Vellano is the only one among the four who will need to run for re-election next year. Santabarbara, however, is in the midst of a run for the state Assembly.
Buhrmaster described the vote to override the cap as clearly “orchestrated” by the Legislature’s Democratic majority.
He also blasted the Democrats for raising taxes at all, much less beyond the tax cap, citing the majority of people who spoke against the override during a public hearing on the measure Friday.
“People need to listen to the public, and the public is saying no more taxes,” he said following the meeting.
Buhrmaster also pledged to pick through the budget to look for additional savings.
He believes there are more areas where the county could realize savings in the form of cuts or consolidation.
“I think we’re going to go line by line and take a hard look at it,” he said.
Majority leader Gary Hughes said the tax increase doesn’t seem as dramatic when taken into context with the cuts over the past four years. He said the Legislature’s record shows they’ve sought cost savings whenever possible to reduce the tax burden on residents.
“For better or for worse, when we could save money, we didn’t ask the taxpayers for more,” he said.
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