Saratoga County

Ballston water districts may require higher taxes

Town officials are discussing whether they should exceed the tax cap for some of the special water d

Town officials are discussing whether they should exceed the tax cap for some of the special water districts that levy taxes on the customers they serve.

The No. 7 water district for Route 50, No. 12 for Brookline Road, No. 13 for Blue Barns Road, No. 18 for Chapel Hill, No. 3 for Currie Court, No. 4 for Thomas Avenue, No. 5 for Paradowski Road, No. 6 for Scotchbush Road and No. 6-1 for Silver Lane all are projected to run a deficit for 2013.

The water districts each have separate fund balances that the town can tap to make up the revenue, but officials also may consider raising taxes on those areas in next year’s budget to keep the funds solvent.

“We have an obligation to continue to provide safe, potable water,” said Supervisor Patti Southworth.

To exceed the state-imposed 2 percent cap on the tax levy increase, the Town Board would have to approve the 2013 budget with a 60 percent vote, which means three board members would have to vote to exceed the cap.

The Town Board is down a person now, with only four members since Jeremy Knight resigned earlier this month.

The good news for most property owners, however, is that the town’s tentative 2013 budget continues the tradition of having no town property tax.

Southworth released her tentative budget to the Town Board on Oct. 5, and the board has held three budget workshops since then. It plans another one at 7 this evening and at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 and 24. Then the board will hold a budget hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8.

But to avoid raising taxes or cutting services, the town would need to tap into the fund balances — unspent money from previous budget years — for the general fund, the town outside the village general fund and the town outside the village highway fund.

Total spending for the three is proposed at $3.7 million with a $435,440 deficit. The bulk of that is for the $2.1 million highway fund, which would see increases in just about every line item.

Southworth said that’s because the highway fund “got behind” in purchasing equipment over the past few years and needs things now.

“Some of these have been planned expenditures that we have been saving for,” she said.

Town Board member William Goslin wants the town to trim spending rather than using the fund balance. He cited Saratoga County and Milton as governments that used most of their surplus and now face financial difficulties.

He said the town still has places to trim spending, especially in the highway fund, and suggested putting together a budget with necessary spending and then a contingency budget with “our larger discretionary budget items.”

Southworth denied that there are items that can be cut.

“We run a very, very lean budget. We are lucky to have extremely responsible department heads” who are conservative in their spending, she said.

Up-to-date totals for the various town fund balances were not readily available Tuesday. Goslin said they will add up to $950,000 by the end of the year, meaning by his calculation the town would spend about half of the remaining fund balance next year under the proposed budget.

One hurdle is that because of the lack of a bookkeeper for many months, town officials still haven’t closed the books on 2011 and don’t have confirmed totals on how much is in the various reserve funds.

“We are still struggling with numbers,” Southworth said.

A new bookkeeper started in late July and is working on catching up.

Goslin is concerned about getting those figures.

“We should not be proposing reckless reserve spending when we do not know the status of town finances or available reserves,” he said in a statement.

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