The Scotia Board of Trustees has narrowly voted itself the ability to exceed the property tax cap.
The board voted 3-2 Wednesday to approve the measure. That does not mean the village will exceed the limit imposed by the state, but it now has the option of doing so.
Mayor Kris Kastberg said he voted in favor to protect the interests of the village, because it is going to be a difficult budget year, with more reductions beyond what Scotia had last year. Pension costs are soaring more than the 2 percent limit of the tax cap.
“If we’re going to stay under the tax cap, we’re going to have to make many cuts that affect the services that are already in place,” he said.
Passing the local law is a necessary first step in overriding the tax cap. Without its approval ahead of time, the board wouldn’t have been able to override the cap later if it wanted to. A supermajority — in this case, four out of five members — is needed to approve a budget that exceeds the cap.
The village’s current general fund budget is a little more than $5 million. With sewer, water and other special districts included, the total budget is about $8.4 million for 2012-13.
The good news, according to Kastberg, is that village expenses for the year to date match projections. He didn’t have specific numbers available but said the village is saving some money because it hasn’t used as much salt as expected this winter.
The one area of the budget that is a problem is overtime. The Scotia Fire Department has spent nearly $85,000 of its $90,000 budget for overtime ,and the police department is nearly $1,000 over its budgeted amount of $127,000, according to figures provided by the village.
Health insurance cost increases won’t be too bad, Kastberg said, because the village is not a big user of health care.
He said it is too early to talk about specific areas to cut within the budget. Department heads will be submitting their requests to him by March 1 and then will come before the Village Board on March 5 and 6. Kastberg will distribute his budget proposal March 20, and there will be a presentation one week later, on March 27. The budget must be adopted by May 1 for the start of the fiscal year on June 1.
Last year, the board also gave itself the option to exceed the tax cap. It ultimately did not do so but made cuts to the budget, including removing funding for the Memorial Day parade and Freedom Park events, delaying purchases until the following year and tapping $300,000 from the surplus.
Trustees Rory Fluman and John Lockwood voted against potentially authorizing higher taxes on Wednesday. The close vote is unusual for the board, where Democrats have had a supermajority since 2008. At times, the board was all Democratic, and at other times, former Trustee Tom Neals was the lone Republican.
Kastberg said he believes Fluman and Lockwood voted against the override because they were both elected last November on a platform of controlling taxes. Lockwood won his first four-year term and Fluman, who was appointed to the board to fill the seat of Cathy Gatta when she was elected to the Schenectady County Legislature, won a full four-year term.
Lockwood said he and Fluman share the same philosophy, that they wanted more information before passing the override law.
“I’m obviously new to the board and new to the budget process. I didn’t feel comfortable voting to override it until I had a better look at the budget,” he said.