Schenectady County legislators got an earful from the agencies supported by local property taxes and the residents who pay them.
Proponents of the county’s public library system and not-for-profit agencies pleaded with them to at least keep county funding level in the 2013 budget. But local residents — many of them business owners — blasted the spending plan for including a 7.49 percent tax increase at a time when the economy continues to struggle.
“Do you run your households like you run the county?” asked Ed Capovani, co-owner of Capovani Brothers, Inc. in Glenville. “Do you have hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit card debt? If so, you shouldn’t be putting together the county budget.”
About 40 people attended the budget hearing Monday. They were heard by only 10 of the county Legislature’s 15 members, since four legislators didn’t show up and a fifth was excused from attending.
Many of the speakers were the same people who spoke when legislators were mulling an override of the tax cap last month. The Legislature ultimately approved the measure, allowing County Manager Kathleen Rooney to submit a proposal exceeding the 2.95 percent cap imposed by state guidelines.
Chamber President Charles Steiner again urged legislators to consider spending cuts that would bring the budget below the tax cap. He brought a chart based on data from the Capital Region Planning Commission that showed how the county was losing higher-income households at an alarming rate.
“The impact of this data is clear,” he said referring to the chart. “The portion of the population who live on very small incomes — including retirees, single mothers and people earning very low wages — is growing. People who can afford an increase are fleeing and have been for many years.”
Steiner said the county’s tax rate is also more than double what is assessed Saratoga County and Albany County. He blamed Schenectady County’s high tax burden and the lower rates in these neighboring areas for driving out more-affluent residents.
“Raising taxes may seem like the answer to our problems but it’s not,” he said. “It is driving people who can afford to pay taxes out of Schenectady County. And with each family that leaves, the problem gets bigger.”
Other residents questioned some of the six-figure salaries included in the budget and why it includes raises for any county employee. Some asked why the county continues to support the Glendale Nursing home — a facility several described as financial black hole — when it continues to lose money.
“It leads me to believe the people of this board are either out of touch or not even living in this country,” said Joe Guidarelli of Rotterdam.
Jim Martin of Glenville’s Local Development Corporation blasted legislators for allowing the cost of government to spike over the course of a decade. He also criticized the legislators for proposing a large tax hike when none of them is up for re-election and pledged to remember their deed when seven seats are up for grabs next year.
“This is one resident and one voter who is going to remember,” he said.
But the budget also had its proponents. Speakers rallying to stave off budget cuts included people affiliated with Catholic Charities, Northeast Parent and Child Society and Cornell Cooperative Extension. They argued slashes to discretionary spending could have a drastic impact on the services they provide.
John Karl of Niskayuna, a member of the Friends of the Schenectady County Public Library, urged legislators to at least keep the library system funding equal to last year.
Money problems have forced the library to cut six of 15 professional librarians employed across the system. He said budgetary shortfalls also threaten the number of hours the libraries can stay open and could even force the closure of one of the branches.
“We’ve had the same budget for the last five years,” he said.
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