SCOTIA -- Village trustees on Wednesday approved a $7.65 million budget for the coming fiscal year that includes a tax rate increase of just under 5 percent.
The board voted 4-1 to approve the spending plan that takes effect on June 1, with Trustee Tom Toberio -- the board's only Republican -- voting against adoption.
Mayor Thomas Gifford said the board majority voted to raise taxes in preference to making cuts to what they see as essential services provided by the village Police and Fire departments and the Department of Public Works. But the board did look for cuts, and decided to eliminate a summer youth program in the parks.
"We have a choice: cut services or increase taxes. We have done both and have a budget which we feel is fair and reasonable," Gifford said in an email to residents prior to the vote.
"Even in a pandemic we all need water to come out of the taps, waste to go down the drain, garbage to be picked up, emergency medical and fire services to keep running and police to protect us," he wrote.
The tax levy -- the amount that must be raised by taxes -- is going to rise by about $300,000, to $5.2 million. But because the village tax base has grown slightly, the tax rate will rise by just 4.9 percent, from $13.14 per $1,000 assessed value to $13.79 per $1,000. "We were trying to keep that under five (percent)," Gifford said.
The village's total spending will be up just under $150,000, or 1.97 percent. But with revenue from other sources expected to remain essentially flat, the board also decided to reduce the amount of fund balance appropriated into the new budget from $300,000 to $150,000.
“Our fund balance has been getting smaller over the years, and that’s a little dangerous in case you have a rainy day," Gifford remarked at the meeting, which was held by Zoom video conference, with only Gifford, Trustee George Solotruck and the village clerk in the meeting room.
The 6.19 percent levy increase breaks the state-set 1.7 percent tax cap. Prior to the budget vote, the board voted 4-1 to override the state tax cap.
Toberio said in an email on Thursday that the village could have put off scheduled DPW and police vehicle purchases, as well as looked at consolidating services like building inspection and the local courts with the town of Glenville. "I thought the village needed to do whatever was possible to not make a bigger impact on already hurting taxpayers," he said.
The adopted budget does not include any money toward a new village fire station. With Schenectady County having called off a planned April 7 public referendum on the fire station plan because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, those plans are on hold.
Gifford said the spending increase was due to a roughly 10-percent increase in the village's state retirement system contribution, to about $700,000, and to increasing employee health insurance costs, as well as to contractual employee raises of around 2 percent.
Among the services the village considered cutting but ultimately kept was the budget line for security guards in the village's large Collins Park. "It keeps vandalism down and we think it makes the park a better place to be," Gifford said.
The sewer use rate will stay same in the coming year, but Gifford said the water rate may rise. The size of any rate increase won't be determined until this summer.