Warren County Budget Officer Frank Thomas, who’s also Stony Creek town supervisor, announces details of the 2014 budget Nov. 1 to the assembled county supervisors, who voted unanimously to approve the spending plan.
Warren County Supervisors voted unanimously Friday Nov. 1 to endorse a $154.3 million budget that raises the tax levy across the county by 1.57 percent but dedicates about $600,000 more to upgrading county roads and $300,000 to combat invasive species in the county’s waterways.
The budget represents a $2.6 million increase in appropriations over 2013, when the “pass-through” payments of sales tax revenue to municipalities are excluded.
The increase in the tax levy is well below the amount allowed under the state tax cap, which in Warren County’s case would have allowed an increase of 2.26 percent.
The 2014 tax levy increase countywide means that a property owner with a 200,000 house will have to pay an average of $28.80 more per year.
The county tax rates for the individual municipalities within the county, however, will be varying dramatically, due to equalization rates and apportionments — factors out of the county’s control.
The 2014 county tax rate is expected to rise 3.84 percent in Warrensburg and Stony Creek, but decrease by 2.89 percent in Chester and Horicon and decline by 1.37 percent in Johnsburg. The county tax rate will likely be going up only .81 percent in Thurman, and 1.29 percent in Queensbury.
The budget also allows for 2 percent raises for almost all officials and non-union employees.
The tax rates were kept stable, despite an increase in health insurance premiums and boosted fuel costs, as well as a shrinking tax base. The total full value of the county’s properties is $10.38 billion, compared to $11.2 billion in 2011. Health insurance costs for the county are expected to increase by more than $900,000 next year. Other factors driving increases are $850,388 in higher wages, and $264,000 more in federal projects.
Sales tax revenue is budgeted to be $4.1 million higher next year — a 1.25 percent increase over the current year — in line with increases in collections already encountered.
The budget calls for the use of $2.3 million of surplus funds, including $1.5 million in general fund surplus. Total county reserve funds, however, are expected to remain at about $11 million.
Warren County Budget Officer Frank Thomas, who serves as Stony Creek Supervisor, predicted that if present trends continue, the county could have a zero tax increase within the next few years.
“This budget contains a very good news story if we can stay on course,” he said. “The county’s finances will allow us to steer money into worthwhile programs, while maintaining a zero percent increase —And we can always look for additional efficiencies.”
Part of the reason for improved finances, he said was due to the lowered benefit contributions because the state downsized its generous pension program for newly-hired public employees. With the 6 to 7 percent turnover in county employees, the new ones will be receiving less generous pensions, and Warren County will be contributing less money toward them.
Thomas warned, however, that the rosy financial outlook depends on the sale of the Westmount Health Facility, which is expected to generate escalating deficits over the next several years.
“If the sale of Westmount doesn’t go through, we could be looking at huge deficits next year,” Thomas said.
The 2014 budget was hailed by a number of county supervisors. Ward 5 Supervisor Bill Kenny said he would have preferred to see the sales tax revenue budgeted higher to be more realistic, but he added the spending was in line in the budget as presented.
“This is a tremendous accomplishment,” he said.
Queensbury Supervisor-at-large Mark Westcott, a frequent critic of county spending, particularly at the county airport, also expressed positivism.
“I am very impressed,” he said, noting that the increase of $600,000 on road work was in line with the opinions of members of a political action group he co-founded, the Upstate NY Taxpayers Advocates. UNYTA members responding to a survey recently named road repair as a top priority for the county.
Westcott added, however, that he was disappointed that the appropriations for the county airport hadn’t been lowered further than the 10 percent decrease in appropriations called for in the 2014 budget.
Responding to many compliments, Thomas deferred credit for the balanced budget to others.
“The credit for this budget goes to the county employees who made the sacrifices and to the department heads that made the cuts,” Thomas concluded as the vote to approve the budget was made.