NISKAYUNA — The town of Niskayuna publicly released a preliminary 2023 budget on Oct. 19 that includes $19.2 million in expenditures and does not impose a residential tax increase.
The preliminary spending plan includes a 2.72% homestead tax rate, which represents a slight 0.17% decrease over the approved 2022 budget.
The preliminary budget includes a 6.21 non-homestead tax rate for businesses in the town, an increase over last year’s 6.08 rate.
The spending plan consists of $14,089,736 in general fund appropriations, with $5,198,695 in highway fund appropriations.
The proposed budget represents a $2,061,402 increase over the approved 2022 town budget.
The town board will hold a public hearing on the preliminary budget on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
Town Supervisor Jaime Puccioni, whose first term began in January, said she was glad to deliver a proposed budget with no residential tax increase and no cuts in services to residents during her first Niskayuna budget season.
“I’m very pleased to offer this preliminary budget to the town board to consider,” Puccioni said on Thursday. “I think we approached the process in a way that was transparent and allowed all of the board members to engage and ask questions and help make decisions.”
The preliminary budget includes a proposed $4,700 raise for the supervisor, with Puccioni’s salary slated to rise from the current rate of $53,800 to $58,500 in 2023.
The proposed budget would not raise the salary of the town’s four board members, with each salary set remaining flat at $10,450 per year.
Puccioni said she would support the forming of a town committee to study the possibility of raising the supervisor salary further in the coming years.
Puccioni said she believes the town should examine bringing the supervisor salary to a level commensurate with the roles and responsibilities of the position.
“I think it’s wise to open the discussion and form an ad hoc committee and to have additional discussions,” she said.
The supervisor noted that ultimately the other four members of the town board would have to support the formation of a committee before it could move forward.
“Ultimately it is something that would need the support of the other members of the town board,” Puccioni said. “The issue of forming a committee is not before us right now and in the future it would be up to the town board to decide whether to look into the issue of the supervisor salary, as well as the timing of when to form a committee.”
The proposed $4,359,232 police department budget funds up to 30 officers and adds a data analyst to the department. The proposal represents a $253,443 increase over the department’s 2022 budget.
Puccioni said the toughest call during the 2023 budget season was the appropriation of $2 million in fund balance for the highway fund and $300,000 for the general fund in the preliminary spending plan.
“The process has typically been to bond for expenditures and to accrue additional short-term debt,” Puccioni said on Thursday. “From the time I came into office, I really wanted to move away from that. So I asked the comptroller [Beth Greenwood] to prepare a preliminary budget that did not include bonding.”
Under the plan, the town would be left with $4.3 million in the general fund balance and $2.3 million remaining in the highway fund balance in 2023.
“That’ll get it back to where it has been traditionally if you look at the previous years,” Greenwood said of the highway fund balance.
A $251,186 increase in sidewalk/pedestrian safety expenditures and a $316,670 increase in the parks department represent equipment outlays from the town.
Under the town’s tentative budget released on Sept. 30, the appropriations totaled $19,559,360 between the general and highway funds, a figure that was reduced to $19,288,431 in the preliminary plan. Greenwood said the reduction was precipitated by an accounting error.
“We were going back through and double-checking the numbers for a lot of things and we found an error in regards to calculating part of our highway payroll,” Greenwood said on Thursday.
Greenwood said the preliminary budget is under the state-imposed two percent tax cap.
The board will now examine the preliminary budget in the run-up to the Tuesday night public hearing, where the community will weigh in on the plan.
“There’s absolutely room for discussion among the town board members,” the supervisor said. “The public hearing is a place where residents can voice their opinions on the budget. At the [Oct. 25] meeting there will be a board vote on whether or not to approve the preliminary budget and after that there will be opportunities to make subsequent changes.”
Councilmember Jason Moskowitz, the sole Republican on the board, said he would wait to hear public input on Tuesday before rendering his verdict on the proposed budget.
“Overall, I’m happy to see that this budget keeps taxes below the tax cap, adequately supports the needs of each department and maintains the services they provide, allows department heads to pay for vehicles and other costly equipment outright rather than having to bond and incur interest and additional rising costs, honors all union contract obligations, and takes significant improvements at town facilities into consideration,” he said. “I’m also happy to see that fund balance has been allocated to lower the tax rate, which is not only a recommendation by the state Comptroller’s office, but also in compliance with the town’s fund balance policy.”
Moskowitz said he is opposed to Puccioni’s proposed salary increase.
“I’m disheartened to see that this budget still includes an 8.7% increase in the town supervisor’s salary,” he said on Thursday. “As elected officials, we ran for office not for the money, but rather to make the town a better place. We did so willingly, knowing what the salary was and what the job entailed. I strongly believe that we should be taking care of our hard working municipal employees and putting money back in the taxpayers pockets, not our own, especially during a period of record inflation.”
The final budget vote is expected to take place at the board’s meeting on Nov. 17, three days before the state deadline for the town to pass a 2023 budget.
Board Member Bill McPartlon said his initial impressions of the budget are positive.
“I am encouraged by the fact that there is no tax increase for homeowners,” McPartlon said. “Also not bonding at this time is a good strategy. I am supportive of this preliminary budget. We had many budget discussion meetings which I attended and asked a lot of questions. My questions and comments were taken into consideration. The supervisor and comptroller and comptroller’s office put in a lot of work and I am appreciative of that.