SCHENECTADY COUNTY -- The Schenectady County Legislature held a public hearing Monday night on spending $330 million next year, but nobody came.
The hearing on the proposed 2019 county budget was shorter than the commercial breaks in a baseball game, as Legislature Chairman Anthony Jasenski asked three times, "Does anybody from the public wish to be heard?," though the public consisted entirely of one newspaper reporter, who maintained his own counsel. The hearing and the meeting were then adjourned, since no other business was planned.
Jasenski and other county officials said it was the first time they could recall nobody speaking at the annual budget hearing, though there have been years when taxes weren't rising when speakers were praising the county for funding their organizations rather than ranting because taxes would rise.
Taxes won't rise next year. The $330.1 million spending plan is up from this year's $319.8 million, but the amount to be raised by taxes isn't going to change. It's been at least three years since county taxes last rose.
The proposed property tax levy is $70,431,103, the same dollar amount -- to the dollar-- as this year. Actually, the actual tax rates in the city and towns may rise or fall in 2019 compared with 2018, depending on changes in their assessed property value, but those rates won't be calculated until later.
County taxes were cut by 1 percent in the current budget year and were held steady in 2017.
In presenting the budget to the Legislature on Oct. 1, County Manager Kathleen Rooney said that the average tax increase over the last 10 years has been less than 1 percent, despite the fluctuations of municipal finances.
"We built the capacity necessary to avoid lurching from crisis to crisis and have provided for the time and resources required to adapt to fiscal change that can come rapidly and with significant implications," Rooney wrote in part of her budget message.
Other than property taxes, what pays the county's bills? The budget includes $99.3 million from the county sales tax, $2.6 million from fees paid by the Rivers Casino & Resort, and $75,000 in excise taxes from a new medical marijuana growing facility expanded to open next year in Glenville.
The tentative capital spending budget totals $21.1 million, which includes $8.4 million for a major renovation at Begley Hall at SUNY Schenectady Community College and $4 million to resurface or repave 50 miles of county-owned roads.
With the new Mont Pleasant library branch expected to open on Crane Street in late spring, Rooney said there is money in the budget to increase hours of operation at that location from 26 hours to 51 hours per week.
A special meeting for the Legislature to decide whether to adopt the budget will be held Monday, Oct. 22.
County legislators aren't the only ones who have seen little interest from the public in their financial deliberations. Last week, only three people spoke at the Schenectady City Council's 2019 budget hearing.