The first draft of the town of Milton budget carries an eye-popping 89 percent tax levy increase, which Town Supervisor Benny Zlotnick said will likely be reined in as town officials finalize a budget by November.
Zlotnick likened the tentative budget, which he developed as the town budget director, to a “Christmas list” that includes more requests than will ultimately be fulfilled. He said some funding requests will be struck from the proposal as the town board holds a series of public budget workshops and ultimately a public hearing where communities members can offer their input directly.
“We have until Nov. 20, so we have over a month to come up with a final adopted budget,” Zlotnick said.
The tentative budget proposes increasing the town tax levy from $816,134 in the current adopted budget to $1,546,920 in the 2022 budget, a nearly 90 percent increase. That level of increase would lift the townwide property tax from about $0.62 per $1,000 of assessed home value to $1.17 per $1,000 of assessed home value.
Zlotnick said the budget proposal included funding for new furniture in every office throughout the newly-renovated Town Hall, an effort to replenish depleted reserve funds, new highway department equipment and park improvements.
“There’s lots of little things that add up to big numbers at the end,” he said.
While acknowledging that the budget request will be reduced – and noting that he wouldn’t vote for the tentative budget in its current form – Zlotnick argued that a tax levy increase is necessary to better align the town’s revenues with the level of services it provides its residents. He pointed out that even a small increase of a few cents per $1,000 of assessed value would calculate to a double-digit percentage increase given the town’s current property tax level.
“I know people want us to run lean, and I would love us to run lean, but we have been running so lean for the last years, and we can’t go lean anymore,” he said. “We have to get caught up.”
This year’s budget process also falls during the middle of a contested election for the supervisor position, and the eye-popping levy increase included in the tentative budget has already started drawing criticism from Republicans aligned against Zlotnick, also a Republican. Republican Scott Ostrander and independent candidate Barbara Kerr, running on the United Milton ballot line, are both challenging Zlotnick for the supervisor position.
Milton Republican Party Chairman Dave Karpinski has outlined a handful of lines of criticism of the budget proposal, including accusing Zlotnick of overrunning the budget for the Town Hall renovations and failing to keep the public informed as town officials spent down reserve funds.
“Our [Republican] committee feels strongly taxpayers should be alerted and aware to ensure the workshops forthcoming are handled with transparency and careful accounting,” Karpinski said in a message.