Saratoga County

Saratoga County tax cap override questioned

Tax levy could grow by 5 percent, if vote passes

BALLSTON SPA — The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors plans to vote Tuesday afternoon on an override of the state tax cap, but critics say the county is not being honest about the numbers.

The override vote is set for 5 p.m. in the county’s boardroom at 40 McMaster St. in Ballston Spa following a public hearing at 4:30 p.m.

“The county is throwing around this 0.68 figure, and they’re not actually telling people what the cap is before they’re asking for permission to override it,” said Ken Girardin, a policy analyst for the non-partisan Empire Center. “That’s a big problem. That’s not responsible public policy.”

The county maintains that the tax cap allows for a 0.68 percent increase in the levy. Girardin, however, said that number refers to the rate of inflation. The cap, enacted in 2011, limits tax levy increases to either 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. But it also varies by municipality, based on a multi-step calculation that factors in growth, economic development-related tax breaks and more.

“I don’t think anybody’s property tax cap is 0.68 percent,” Girardin said. He estimated the county’s cap to be closer to 1.98 percent.

County Administrator Spencer Hellwig dismissed that claim.

“I’m aware of some of the feedback that they provided, which has been inaccurate,” he said. “I’m not going to indulge him or the organization because I’ve seen or I’ve been told of some statements that they made relative to the county budget in terms of what should be included and what shouldn’t be. It’s misinformed.”

Girardin also noted the county claims to be raising taxes by 1.77 percent, when the tax levy is actually increasing by 5 percent, or $2.76 million. The 1.77 percent figure refers to the tax rate increase.

Rob Arrigo, a Wilton resident who founded the fiscally conservative Upstate Victory Fund, said the county failed to calculate and publicize the cap amount and ignored the growth factor.

“What’s unacceptable is the lack of transparency and inaccuracy by our county representatives as stewards of our money,” he said, in a prepared statement. “We are only talking about reducing roughly $1 million to $2 million in new spending from a nearly $300 million budget to remain under the cap and avoid excessive tax hikes.”

Hellwig said he was aware the tax cap is imposed on the levy and not the rate. But he said the 5 percent tax levy increase reflects major growth over the past year in countywide assessed property value, not the impact to the individual taxpayer.

The $297.6 million budget would raise the average county tax rate from $2.26 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $2.30, or an $8 increase for a home assessed for $200,000.

“That’s really what the public should understand: behind all these numbers, what the real impact is in terms of the cost to them,” Hellwig said.

He said the tax cap override is needed for the county to keep up with infrastructure upgrades and expanded demand for services like water and sewer infrastructure and fire and police protection that come with the kind of economic growth Saratoga County is experiencing.

Large-scale developments are often tax-exempt, and the tax cap doesn’t allow the county to raise the revenue needed to cover the associated expenses, he said.

Girardin, however, said growth in the tax base is taken into account when determining a municipality’s tax cap.

“That is the thing that Saratoga County has been saying doesn’t exist, and it’s the first big step in the tax cap calculation,” he said.

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