The Town Chester Municipal Center is now depending on the power of the sun to provide electricity, as arrays of solar panels were hooked up the last week in September. Savings from solar power, reduction in assessor's salary, a change in health care plans, and delay of vehicle purchases are all contributing to the town's ability to keep its 2013 budget under the state's mandated tax cap.
Despite facing various increases in municipal employee benefit costs, town of Chester leaders are calling for a 2013 budget with a tax levy hike that will be in compliance with the state’s mandated property tax cap, according to town Supervisor Fred Monroe.
The Chester Town Board convened in a special meeting Monday Oct. 1, discussing how to reduce ever-increasing employee health-care costs and how to trim a town budget that must provide for a 17 percent increase in employee pension espenses.
The board members then endorsed a tentative 2013 town budget that features total appropriations, general and highway combined, of about $3.6 million or 7.4 percent higher than the current budget of $3,348,958.
The budget calls for $977,468 to be raised by property taxes in 2013, an increase of $22,964 — 2.4 percent more than in 2012.
This tax hike complies with the so-called state two percent tax cap law, Monroe said, because the legislation allows municipalities particular amounts to pay for such expenses as pension increases and voter-approved construction projects. The state formula to determine whether a municipality is raising taxes under 2 percent includes factors such as increases or decreases in the value of property in the taxing district.
The 2013 town budget is subject to a public hearing in early November.
Although the town is mandated to pay an increase of about 17 percent in pension expenses for its two dozen employees, certain increases in revenue are expected to offset some of that increase.
The spending plan estimates that the town will receive $1.6 million in sales tax revenue through Warren County, a proportion of the county’s sales tax revenue divided between local municipalities according to their total property valuation — which is relatively high for Chester because of its lakefront properties.
The tentative 2013 budget also calls for $140,000 of 2012 fund balance to be applied to reduce the tax levy.
Among the appropriations are $30,000 towards a fund to bankroll a new roof for the town municipal center.
Savings include delaying purchase of a large truck for the highway department, representing a savings of about $125,000.
Also, $47,000 was previously earmarked for costs associated with a revaluation to be conducted in 2013, and with Horicon putting off that project, this expense is to be postponed, Monroe said.
The budget calls the town’s highway department to spend a higher amount than in recent history for paving, Monroe said.
Since the onset of the recession, Chester has reduced its allocation for resurfacing its roadways — however in 2012 this appropriation was substantially increased, and 2013 calls for a slight increase over that sum.
In 2011, about $143,00 was appropriated for paving, and in 2012, that sum was boosted to $254,000. For 2013, that allocation was increased to about $255,000, Monroe said.
“The roads were getting in bad shape — and the more you delay, the more it costs in the long run,” he said. “We are now working towards getting caught up on paving.”
The budget also allocates money to install three new stretches of guardrail — at Faxon Pond and on Pine St. and Igerna Road.
The budget also calls for the town to retire its debt associated with the reconstruction of the Starbuckville Dam. The town initially borrowed about $120,000 for the project, and the 2013 tentative budget calls for the remaining debt of about $13,000 to be paid off.
Solar power savings eyed
The town’s project to install arrays of solar panels at the town facilities is expected to save about $4,000 on utility costs.
That savings is expected to increase in the coming years, as the town council voted this summer to double the number of solar arrays at three of its four sites and increase the arrays at the other stie by 20 percent. Further savings on electricity costs is also expected as the town decreases its peak usage, which bears a premium cost, Monroe said.
As of this past week, the solar arrays for the town municipal center were hooked up, and in the first nine days, the solar arrays produced 1,750 kilowatts of energy — substantially more than expected, Monroe said.
Next week, workers will be pouring foundations for new solar arrays at the town’s Dynamite Hill Recreational area. These arrays will be providing electricity not only for the building located there, but two main pumps to transport drinking water for Chestertown residents.
Projected savings for 2013 include the town assessor retiring, yet offering to accomplish the same workload on a part-time basis, Monroe said.
The town board members talked about changing health plans, because the premiums are to increase about 7 percent, yet benefits are projected to be cut.
The board members are considering a switch from MVP Health Plans to Blue Shield, saving from $2,000 to $3,900 on each participating employee.
Although the new plan would include far higher co-pays, employees could draw from health care reimbursement accounts to subsidize such expenses, Monroe said.