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Tough Budget Year Coming In Capital Region Suburbs

WAMC Composite Image by Dave Lucas

Supervisors of three Capital Region suburbs have released their 2021 budget proposals.

Municipal budgets everywhere are being challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, and local towns are no exception.

Niskayuna town supervisor Yasmine Syed's proposed spending plan includes a residential property tax increase of 2.054 percent. She says this is one of the most difficult budget years the town has seen.

"We are grappling with a rise in expenses due to contractually obligated salary increases as well as year over year increases to our health insurance costs as well as to employee retirement contributions, and coupled with those items and expenses we also are seeing projected decreases in our revenue, so roughly a 20 percent decrease in federal and state aid. We're going to see decreases by a approximately 20 percent to, for instance, mortgage tax, which is a federally and state guaranteed revenue stream." The Republican says she prepared the Schenectady County town's $15 million dollar budget with a conservative approach.

"Hence I have proposed in the 2021 tentative budget a 2 percent tax increase that will be under the tax cap. We do appropriate fund balance to do so, to balance the budget. And it's not ideal, so it's a work in progress. We're hoping to get that fund balance appropriation number down."

Syed adds there is more work to be done before passing a final budget in November.

Guilderland's Democratic supervisor, Peter Barber, says his 2021 spending plan reflects the pandemic. with sales tax and general fees plummeting, he's lowered the bar when it comes to anticipated revenues and doesn't rely on borrowing or using fund balances.

"We're already anticipating a bit of a recession, so I think we already were beginning to start saving money in our 2020 year. But going forward in 2021, we see reducing sales tax and recreational fees, court fines and that sort of stuff, and then it is so dependent on the pandemic, and we still think there's gonna be severe restrictions. And also in terms of expenditures I think we've done a good job for 2020 holding the line and, we're gonna reduce our expenses by about two to two and a half percent and mostly by freezing purchase of vehicles and equipment. But one thing we're not doing, no layoffs, no furloughs, we're still going to provide a two percent pay increase and we're not gonna be creating any new positions. We do have money set aside to complete some of our sidewalk projects and quality of life improvements." The $35.8 million dollar spending plan does not change the property tax rate of $0.18563 per $1000 of assessed value. The overall tax levy including water, sewer, and highway is proposed to increase by 1.9052 percent.

Colonie's Democratic Town Supervisor Paula Mahan has proposed a nearly $100 million budget.

"The budget remains pretty flat for 2021. There was a .54 percent increase over the 2020 budget, which the total reflects an increase in our budget. We increased it $535,848, very very low. And for our taxpayers, you know, its' within the tax cap, the New York State tax cap and the increase is approximately 6.8 cents per thousand of assessed taxable value. So we tried to keep things as low as we could but keeping all of our essential service going."

The measure would add 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value per month, about $9.24 a year for the typical homeowner.

All three budgets face town board approval.

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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