Flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Irene may have a lasting impact on Ticonderoga taxes. The storm caused seven roads and two bridges to be closed Aug. 28, leaving behind an estimated $1 million in damage to local thoroughfares. It also left the Ti town board trying to figure out a way to pay for repairs.
Flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Irene may have a lasting impact on Ticonderoga taxes.
The storm caused seven roads and two bridges to be closed Aug. 28, leaving behind an estimated $1 million in damage to local thoroughfares. It also left the Ti town board trying to figure out a way to pay for repairs.
Facing a 2 percent cap on local property taxes in 2012 and beyond, trustees were already considering cuts to services to reduce the town budget. Now, the town board must deal with the unexpected cost of the storm damage.
Ticonderoga has applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help. If FEMA agrees to help, it will pay 87.5 percent of the cost of repairs.
There are problems, though. There is no assurance FEMA will fund the Ti repairs; if FEMA does grant Ti money the cash will come months from now, so the town still needs the upfront money to make repairs; and even with FEMA help the town faces a $125,000 bill for storm damage.
“We can’t count on FEMA,” Ti Supervisor Deb Malaney said. “Hopefully they (FEMA) can help, but we don’t know if they will or how long it may take. Towns that got FEMA help in April (because of spring floods) are still waiting for their money.”
Besides dealing with flood damage, Malaney said, town officials have to be thinking about the upcoming winter.
“We just can’t go out and spend all our highway (department) resources,” she said. “We still have winter to get through. We’re going to need the money we budgeted for snow removal.”
The answer may be a bond. If Ticonderoga borrows the money for road work repayment will spread the cost of repairs out for years, easing the impact on the 2012 budget.
“We’ll pay for what we can and we’ll probably have to bond for the rest of it,” Malaney said.
Borrowing is not a happy thought for Ticonderoga officials, who realize the debt will impact future budgets as they try to stay within the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap.
“That’s a problem,” Malaney acknowledged. “The tax cap sounded like a great idea, but I’m afraid it’s not sustainable. The 2 percent tax cap may work in a larger municipality with a larger budget and a surplus, but in a small town we have so little cushion to deal with these emergencies.
“When we borrow money we’re just pushing the problem down the road,” she said.
The 2011 Ticonderoga budget totals $5 million. The highway repairs alone could mean a 20 percent tax increase.
Malaney will meet with state and FEMA officials to plead Ticonderoga’s case for assistance. One of the things she plans on asking is whether natural disasters and other emergencies may be exempt from the tax cap.
“We really have tightened out (budget) belt,” Malaney said. “We can’t go much father.”
Local municipalities can exceed the 2 percent cap, Malaney explained, with a two-third vote of the board. In Ticonderoga’s case, that means four of five town board members would have to agree to the increase.
State law mandates the town provide for highways, sewer, water, courts, fire protection and other items.
Items such as library support, youth programs, senior citizen programs, parks, police protection, economic development and others are not mandated.
Mandated services can be trimmed, but not eliminated, Malaney explained. Non-mandated items can be eliminated.
Town officials are also faced with increasing costs. Malaney pointed out town employee health insurance costs are expected to increase 9 percent in 2012. Energy costs are also expected to be significantly higher.
Complicating the 2012 budget process are employee salaries and benefits. Salaries and benefits account for nearly 80 percent of the Ti town budget, Malaney pointed out.
Town employees, union and non-union, agreed to a wage freeze in 2011. Can the town board ask employees for another pay freeze in 2012?
Malaney won’t address that issue yet, but stressed the town needs to find ways to become more efficient and cost effective. She said the board will investigate sharing personnel and equipment between the town highway, water and sewer departments.