Montgomery County

Montgomery County budget proposal calls for small tax hike

The proposed Montgomery County budget for 2017 would raise property taxes less than 1 percent, keepi

The proposed Montgomery County budget for 2017 would raise property taxes less than 1 percent, keeping the tax increase below the state tax cap, County Executive Matthew L. Ossenfort said.

The $111.2 million budget plan released late Friday would up spending from this year’s $108.6 million budget, but increase the tax levy — what property owners pay — by 0.93 percent, which will be the county’s tax cap for the year.

The plan includes a relatively small sum — about $10,000 — to develop an aquatic dive team within the department of emergency services.

The dive program would work in conjunction with the established dive teams in Amsterdam and in the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office, with the potential of establishing a shared team with Fulton County.

“The county executive is trying to share services with Fulton and Saratoga counties to try to enhance the service we offer,” said Ossenfort spokesman Andrew Santillo. “Basically, it’s due to what’s happened with tragedies this summer on Great Sacandaga Lake and Lake George.”

There have been two drowning deaths on Great Sacandaga Lake this summer, and a half-dozen drowning deaths in the region.

“We’ve been meeting with Saratoga County Sheriff [Michael] Zurlo and Fulton County Sheriff [Richard] Giardano to try to better improve our services,” Santillo said.

While this summer’s incidents have been in other counties, Santillo noted that Montgomery County has the potential for incidents on the Mohawk River, which runs the length of the county.

The proposed budget includes $1.5 million in new revenue other than property tax, but also draws $3.8 million from the county’s fund balance.

Ossenfort noted that developing a balanced budget is becoming difficult under the tax cap, despite private job growth in the county and the lowest unemployment rate in nearly a decade. (The unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in July, according to the state Department of Labor.)

“Due to the fact the tax cap has been below 1 percent the past two years, counties around the state, including here in Montgomery, are finding it more and more difficult to put together a fiscally sound budget,” Ossenfort said.

The county charter requires Ossenfort to submit a proposed budget by Sept. 5 of each year. The executive has already held some meeting with county legislators while developing the plan.

“The start of this process has been one where the executive and the Legislature are working together, with a goal of adopting a fiscally responsible budget for our county taxpayers,” said Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Thomas L. Quackenbush.

Social services is one area where costs are expected to rise next year, though officials said those costs are becoming harder to predict.

“The opiate epidemic, in particular, has dramatically increased our foster care case numbers, making it challenging for our department,” said county Social Services Commissioner Michael McMahon.

The budget review will begin Tuesday, with a meeting among Ossenfort, County Treasurer Shawn Bowerman and the Budget and Finance Committee at 4 p.m. in Fonda. The Legislature is supposed to act by mid-October.

The Montgomery County spending plan is the region’s first 2017 budget proposal to be made public.

In some counties, including Saratoga, there is talk about passing the necessary laws to override the tax cap, but Santillo said he doesn’t expect that to be necessary.

“We are staying under the cap but going right up to it,” he said.

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