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Johnstown Residents Balk At Proposed 60 Percent Tax Increase

Lucas Willard
Johnstown Supervisor Jack Wilson explains the proposed budget to residents during a public hearing on Monday

Homeowners in the Fulton County town of Johnstown are facing a tax increase in 2018. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard attended a packed meeting last night where residents shouted down a proposal to raise property taxes by 60 percent.

Town of Johnstown officials shocked residents in October with a proposed budget carrying a 100 percent tax increase.

Monday night, before a packed town hall, Supervisor Jack Wilson said the proposed property tax rate had been pared down to $2.80 per $1,000 of assessed value —  a 60 percent increase over 2017.

“Our highway department stepped up to the plate and they took out $154,000 out of their budget. And on the general fund side, which is the town hall, we was able to take out $98,000 out of the budget that got us to $3.80,” explained Wilson.

Wilson also explained that all elected officials would not get a raise next year. The same cannot be said about employees under union contract.

The short answer given by the supervisor as to why such an increase is needed is that for the last few years, a hired bookkeeper misled the town by not reporting accurate numbers.

Before putting together this year’s budget proposal, the town reviewed financial documents from 2012 through 2016. A new full-time bookkeeper was put in place and the position is included in the fiscal year 2018 plan.

But those answers didn’t satisfy the crowd. One of the first to speak at the public hearing was Richard Lynaugh. 

“How could it be that all of you didn’t realize that year after year you’re depleting the emergency fund or the reserve fund? You in fact are blaming it on your bookkeeper. What about you, councilmen? You people?” asked Lynaugh.

Wilson and the town board took questions for nearly two hours. Residents wanted to know who gets health insurance, who gets raises, and much more.

Michael Assaf said he was new to Johnstown. He asked why the town hadn’t considered bankruptcy in order to force negotiations on union contracts.

“This is not a wealthy area. This area could never support five fire departments. And in a bankruptcy we can reject executory contracts like the some of the union contracts that we’re currently tied into to force that consolidation,” said Assaf.

While most of the talking at the front of the room was done by the supervisor, town board member Tim Rizzo said more planning is needed.

“I think the biggest issue with the town is the failure of a written plan – as you were asking what are we going to do moving forward – and from my understanding the board is going to finally be putting a plan together that shows those numbers,” said Rizzo.

In the end, the town board chose not to adopt the budget. Under state law, the budget must be passed this month. The next regularly scheduled board meeting is November 20th.

Supervisor Wilson said he will take the suggestions to heart.

“We will get it down some more. We won’t see any big decreases but we will get it down some more,” said Wilson.

But some residents made it clear that they expect more. One man announced a last-minute write-in campaign for town board. Another man, who did not identify himself, sent his message to the board.

“And if you don’t get to work, guess what? These people are going to vote your butts out.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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