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Budget Season Ramps Up: A Look At Three Proposals

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Composite photo Dave Lucas/WAMC & wikipedia
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Budget season is ramping up. Here's a look at three in-the-works spending plans.

Early this month, Democratic Colonie Town Supervisor Paula Mahan released her budget proposal that included a 5.2 percent total increase over 2018, carrying a 7.5 percent tax hike. The state tax cap is 2 percent. Citing additional third-quarter sales tax revenue that just came in "the other day," Mahan now proposes reducing the tax levy increase.   "We were able to add an additional amount of $550,000 in revenue to our budget, which allowed us to reduce the property tax increase from 7.5 to 5.48."

But that still exceeds the state tax cap...   "We're allowed 3.45 percent with the cap, and to go to 5.48 percent, you need to have 60 percent of the board to vote favorably towards that."

A law that needs to be passed to go over the cap is the subject of a public meeting tonight at Colonie Town Hall.   "Before we go to the actual budget hearing, we have to do the public hearing first for the tax cap override."

Once that's accomplished, another Town Hall hearing on Mahan's $96.6 million proposal is set for November 8th.   "We have to stay within the timeline. We have to be done by November 20th. So if we're done on the 8th, that's fine. If we have to hold another meeting, we will."

A few miles west in Schenectady, the county legislature unanimously approved the 2019 budget. The $330 million proposal includes funds for library and community college upgrades with no property tax increase for the third year in a row.  Majority Leader Gary Hughes:   "Sustainability is really what we have focused on in terms of using one-time revenue such as the initial revenue that we received from the Rivers Casino to pay down debt, which saves us costs every year, we've done some consolidation of departments, which also produces a recurring savings. We have worked very dilligently on intergovernmental cooperation, we have one of the only countywide library systems in the state. Our per capita cost to operate our library in Schenectady County is the lowest in the region. All of those sorts of efforts combine to be able to allow us to once again hold our tax levy at the same rate as last year, even though our costs rose slightly, largely due to inflation and labor agreements."

Hughes says no one spoke at a public meeting October 15h on the spending plan, which was approved without any changes. 

Meantime, Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin has presented his 2019 budget proposal.   "We've got an increase in sales tax, we're projecting 5 or 6 percent increase in our sales tax revenue, that's a sign of a great economy, which we know doesn't continue forever. But we're sort of holding on to that as much as we can right now and trying to prepare for a rainy day that always comes. To have no tax increase and increasing our surplus and also just on an operations level we've saved close to $3 million bucks since taking office, in 10 months, just by revamping the way we've been doing some things, with hiring, with some attrition not filling positions right away, making sure that a position in fact needs to be refilled, changing the way we purchase goods and services around here has resulted in pretty massive savings, about $600,000 and counting on that."

McLaughlin says he's looking forward to working with legislators to review, consider and eventually adopt his spending plan.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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