SCHENECTADY — Some homeowners in Schenectady County will receive a $250 rebate on county property taxes next year under a $391 million operating budget unanimously approved by lawmakers Wednesday.
The 2023 spending plan, approved in a 13-0 vote, would keep property taxes flat and use $9 million in reserve funds to provide $250 rebate checks to around 34,500 homeowners throughout the county using the same eligibility requirements as the state’s basic, enhanced and credit STAR programs, which provide school tax relief to qualifying homeowners based on income and age.
Legislators Jeffrey McDonald, of District 2, and Sara Mae Pratt, of District 3, were not in attendance for the vote.
Lawmakers also unanimously approved the 2023-2028 capital improvement plan, which calls for $49 million in upgrades over the next five years. The plan calls for $41 million in capital projects next year, including $4.8 million in airport upgrades, $4.2 million for projects at SUNY Schenectady and $1.7 million in library upgrades.
The county will also provide $4 million in federal coronavirus-relief funds to Hometown Health Centers to convert a former Rite Aid building at the corner of State Street and Brandywine Avenue, a $7.4 million project. The health center began operating in the county after Ellis Medicine announce it would be eliminating is dental practice in 2021.
Gary Hughes, a District 2 lawmaker and the Legislature’s majority conference leader, introduced the rebate program as a budget amendment, noting the program will provide tax relief for residents at a time of soaring inflation, which has driven up commodity and energy costs.
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“The wise and prudent management of county resources over the past several years has allowed the county to maintain a healthy rainy day fund for use in challenging fiscal times,” Hughes said.
The $391 million budget represents a $48 million — or 14% — increase in appropriations over the current spending plan, and represents a $13.1 million increase in spending from county manager Rory Fluman’s tentative budget unveiled earlier this month.
The budget includes a $71 million tax levy and projects a $113.8 million in sales tax revenue, a $10 million increase from the current spending plan, and assumes $3.25 million in host gaming revenue from Rivers Casino in Schenectady.
The spending plan also includes $95 million in state and federal aid and $111 million in combined mortgage and bed-tax revenue.
Property taxes in the county have remained flat since 2017, which the county projects has saved taxpayers $42 million over that period.
“I’m very happy we were able to put forth a budget this year that holds the line for property taxes while preserving the essential services we provide for residents, including the county highway system, public safety, the county library system, senior long-term care, to name a few,” said Anthony Jasenski, chair the of Legislature. “Our past efforts to budget conservatively, operate more efficiently and identify innovative ways of saving money have paid off.”
Included in the budget is $18.5 million in transportation spending, including 60 miles of preventative maintenance and 20 miles in new roads. The county will also increase its support for SUNY Schenectady by 2%, bringing the county’s total support for the college to $3.8 million, including $1.3 million in debt service.
Hughes also introduced an amendment creating a one-year pilot program that would eliminate the fee to take civil service exams for county and local positions as a way to help bolster the government workforce, which has continued to struggle to recruit qualified employees amid recent hiring struggles.
The county in 2019 eliminated its residency requirement for employment in hopes of attracting new employees, but the county has still struggled to find help, even after increasing wages and providing sign-on bonuses for certain positions, Hughes said.
The amendment, which would have no financial impact on the county, also requires the county’s Department of Civil Service to develop a plan to recruit individuals to take the exam.
“The fiscal impact would be negligible to the county but will remove the barrier for those who struggle to pay the fee to take the test,” Hughes said.
In addition, the county will use $100,000 to stockpile personal protective equipment, sanitizer, syringes and other equipment to better prepare for a future medical emergency. The county plans to apply for state aid to offset the costs.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.
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