SARATOGA SPRINGS — The City Council adopted its 2018 budget on Tuesday, which includes an increase of more than $600,000 over this year’s budget.
Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan presented a budget that calls for total spending of $46.1 million, compared with $45.5 million this year.
The areas where costs have increased the most include city contracts and public safety expenses, whereas the biggest decreases were to citywide fund transfers and changes in healthcare costs.
The budget includes a property tax rate of $6.06 per $1,000 assessed value in the inside district, a 0.03 percent reduction, and $5.98 per $1,000, a 0.02 percent increase, in the district outside the central city area.
Madigan said the property tax rate difference from this year in both the inside and outside areas is less than 1 cent per $1,000, resulting in no tax increase.
“This is one of the most difficult budgets I’ve put together during my time on the council,” she said. “As healthcare costs rise and several retirements are planned for 2018, it puts a material strain on the budget, which I don’t think will be solved until the first quarter of 2018.”
Madigan said there were two proposed new hires that were not approved in the 2018 budget.
“I don’t believe it’s the right time to take on $150,000 in recurring expenses,” she said to the council. “In 2018, the council can revisit the matter.”
Though all City Council members approved the 2018 budget, Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen, who will be replaced by Peter Martin in January, said he was disappointed the budget did not include a new hire for the department.
“I hope that can be reconciled in the near future,” he said. “I understand these are very tight budgets and that finances are tight in the city, but as I’ve suggested, the council should make slight increases in the tax rate going forward.”
Mathiesen added, “Smaller tax increases are a reality in most municipalities and it helps citizens understand that it costs more to run the city year after year.”
The total amount to be raised by taxes will increase from $19 million to $19.3 million, which Madigan said was essentially a zero percent tax increase that is a result of more properties coming on the tax roll.
The city’s fund balance increased from $1.9 million this year to $2.5 million in 2018, which includes $1.5 million from unassigned funds as well as $250,000 from the retirement reserve and $732,000 from the tax stabilization reserve.
Madigan said she decided to increase the fund balance.
“With a new mayor and commissioner coming on board, it’s also important to have a little flexibility when it comes to what’s important to the new members of City Council in the first quarter of 2018,” she said.
Mayor Joanne Yepsen said while she’s concerned about the city retaining its employees, she feels the budget adequately addresses that issue.
“We clearly have a pretty lean, mean machine here for the mayor’s department and the whole city,” she said. “In the future, I’d imagine the mayor’s department would look at how to reorganize or expand certain areas to better serve the public.”
Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco expressed his confidence in the budget.
“It’s important to keep the taxpayers in mind while making sure we can provide the services we need to throughout the year and this budget certainly takes care of that,” he said. “It worked out well for the council and the taxpayers.”