A decrease in gas prices, a mild winter and an unexpected savings helped the village of Scotia stay under the state tax cap for its 2016-2017 budget.
The $8.8 million budget Mayor Kris Kastberg proposed to the village Board of Trustees last week includes a tax levy increase of 0.59 percent.
The village’s basic cap was .12 percent, the mayor said, but with credit from capital improvements and funds from two pilot programs added in, the cap was 0.59 percent.
“So it does not exceed the cap … We’re like a couple hundred dollars below it,” Kastberg said. “I feel we’ve made a budget that’s good for the village and decided what the right thing for the village is.”
The board had adopted a law to allow the village to exceed the tax cap in case it was necessary, but because the proposed budget stays within the cap, Kastberg said if adopted, the board will repeal the law so residents will receive their state tax freeze rebate checks.
With a tax rate of $12.44 per $1,000 of assessed value in the 2016-2017 budget, the average Scotia home, which is roughly assessed at $125,000, would pay about $1,555 in property taxes next year.
The mayor said one of the biggest changes to this year’s financial plan was reducing $30,000 from the budget after eliminating swimming at Collins Lake next to Washington Avenue.
Kastberg said when tropical storms Irene and Lee hit the area in 2011, a lot of sediment was washed into the lake, which reduced the water’s clarity to a level that is unsafe for swimming.
“To have public swimming, the Department of Health requires a certain amount of visibility in the water,” Kastberg explained. “We’ve tried four or five things to clear the lake, but the only thing that will clear it is Mother Nature in time.”
The mayor said the $30,000 swimming expense came from hiring lifeguards, upkeep and other maintenance.
No other significant changes were made, he said, but he does have a concern about the village budgeting with the same ease next year.
“This is true for everyone else around here, but our budgets are getting to the point where if you have any more cuts, you’ll have to touch programs, reduce services like police, public works, whatever, and I don’t want to get there,” Kastberg said. “We’re based on the level of service you get in the community, and I have a concern for next year if the cap is again .59 percent, it will be tough to make that without cutting deeply somewhere.
“We got lucky with swimming cutting this year.”
A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for April 13 at the board’s monthly meeting. Trustees will vote to adopt the budget after the hearing, Kastberg said.
Kastberg said the trustees seemed pleased with this year’s proposed budget, but one has stated an issue with pay raises that were given to elected officials. The budget includes a 1.5 percent increase for all non-union village employees and officials.
“I build my budgets to take what the unions are getting and try to apply that to the non-represented employees,” Kastberg said. “It keeps them from falling way behind the unionized employees.”
Trustee Keven Mathes said that before the vote is taken he plans to make a motion to amend the budget and not increase the trustees’ or mayor’s salaries.
“We’re the highest-taxed municipality in the area,” Mathes said Tuesday. “I don’t feel any elected official should be getting a raise when taxpayers are paying the third-highest taxes already. I know I don’t feel comfortable getting a raise.”
Mathes said he hopes the village will continue to look into shared services with nearby municipalities.
The trustee mentioned the idea of sharing a municipal center with the town of Glenville, and said he is still against the idea of Scotia building its own waste water treatment plant, as the village board discussed in February.
If his motion to eliminate the trustees’ and mayor’s raises fails, Mathes said he may oppose the budget.
“It’s great we’re under the tax cap and I’m excited about that, but I’m torn,” Mathes said. “Bullets for the guns of the police officers, salt for the Department of Public Works and providing the Fire Department with adequate equipment are things we can’t take away, but we can take away from what we make because we’re not in this for the money.”
Reach Gazette reporter Kate Seckinger at 395-3113, [email protected] or @KateSeckinger on Twitter.