The Essex County Board of Supervisors.
October and county finance meetings lead to one main topic no matter where you are in New York state — budget talk.
So was life for members of the Essex County Finance, Tax Reduction and Mandate Relief Committee Oct. 15 as they met to discuss the early budget numbers.
County Manager Daniel Palmer reported that, based on the state imposed 2 percent tax levy cap, the county would have little room unless an override was passed.
“We are looking at a 2.55 percent tax cap, which means that we can only increase our levy by $383,636 if we want to stay under the cap.”
Palmer said that given the increases in retirement contributions and other state mandated payments, that was a number that would be unrealistic to get to.
Jay Supervisor and County Chairman Randy Douglas agreed.
“The state mandates are crippling county government,” Douglas said. “Some people think we are just shifting the blame to the state. The governor has been very good to our region but one thing that they are well aware of is that I do not agree with the tax cap.
The increase in the nine for nine mandates is $244 million statewide for counties to pick up. That is a $130 million gap for county funding right there before we even look at our own budget.”
“Although we provide more services than any of the other taxing entities, we get beat up because people look at he size and they think that we have this dynasty out here and that is just not the case,” Moriah Supervisor and budget liaison Tom Scozzafava said.
Palmer added that along with paying for its own expenditures, the county also pays the up-front costs for any municipal taxes that go unpaid.
“If a town or a school does not get their tax money, they still need the money to operate, and we operate as the bank for them,” Palmer said. “We have to take that out of fund balance. We hope to eventually get that back, but it’s not immediate.”
Palmer said that the county paid out roughly $4.3 million to towns and schools to fill in the gap for unpaid taxes.
Douglas and Scozzafava both said that getting out and talking to county residents about the budget process and where Essex County tax rates stand in comparison to the rest of the state was important.
“I think that it is important that people see where their taxes are and where we were in 2005 and look at where your assessment has increased,” Douglas, who released his property tax statements for those years recently, said. “In my case, it was just over $5 per year. We have to do a better job educating our people in the county and in our towns as to where we are with this budget.”
“We are planning to have informational meetings prior to the public hearing on the budget,” Scozzafava said. “We need to let our constituents know what is happening here. We are not trying to justify going over the tax cap, but when you look at it we really do not have another alternative. “
Scozzafava said that people need to look at more than just the increase to the appropriation line in the budget when looking at the overall impact on their wallet.
“We need to have something that shows people what they have paid,” he said. “While the appropriations have increased in the budget, the money that is coming out of their pockets has not gone up drastically, and even has gone down in some cases.”
The supervisors passed a pair of resolutions regarding the budget process, the first was to move forward with a local law that would override the 2 percent tax levy cap pending a public hearing, which was set to take place Monday, Nov. 26, at 6 p.m., which would be followed by the monthly Ways and Means Committee meeting.
“We need to start the process of overriding the tax cap now if we want to have something in place should the board feel that is the way it needs to go,” County Attorney Daniel Manning said.
County treasurer Michael Diskin delivered a piece of good news for the county during his report, stating that sales tax revenue was up almost $600,000 for the year with early October results up over $60,000 alone. Diskin also said that September was one of the best months ever for occupancy tax collection as well.