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North Country News

Essex County Holds Public Hearing On Tax Cap

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Pat Bradley/WAMC
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The Essex County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing Monday on the possibility they may exceed the New York state-mandated tax cap of .73 percent for 2016.
At one time Essex County was using almost $7 million from the fund balance to lower the tax levy, resulting in the depletion of the fund balance.  County Manager Dan Palmer was tasked with developing a five-year plan to bring the county from deficit spending to a balanced budget.  He explains that it is now midway through that plan, which he says will stabilize the budget and bring it under the tax cap.   “The third year calls for nine (percent) and then the fourth year calls for nine and then by the fifth year we would be at the tax cap. That plan is still in place. I’m not sure if the board is going to make changes or alterations to that.  I’ll note that this board is not subject to the requirement to go along with the five year plan, but they have generally shown a willingness to work somewhat in those confines that we have laid out in terms of arriving at what essentially would be a balanced budget.”

Although they are in the early stages of drafting the budget, the Essex County Board of Supervisors gathered Monday for a public hearing on the possibility of exceeding the tax cap, which is at its lowest rate since it began in 2011. About a fifth of municipalities vote to override the cap annually.

Palmer says the public hearing was procedural and must be held should the Board decide at any point in the budget process to override the cap.   “It doesn’t mean that the board necessarily is going to decide to override the cap.  But if they do this needs to be in place ahead of time.  The tax cap percentage that was put out by the state was 0.73 percent which is a pretty unrealistic number to meet for, I think, most municipalities. But regardless of that what occurred yesterday was simply the process of getting ready for that point at which if they decide to override that public hearing has to be held ahead of time.”

No one showed up for the public hearing according to Palmer.  Board of Supervisors Chair and Town of Keene Supervisor Bill Ferebee expects the county will exceed the cap. He is hopeful that they can stay below the target in the five-year plan.   “We do this every year.  If we don’t do it and all of a sudden we see that we have to exceed the cap then we can’t.  So it’s just a precautionary item.  The county will clearly exceed the cap this year. We’re trying to stay on target with the five year plan. We were under his prediction last year.  We’re definitely going to work to try to stay under even the 9 percent. But we’re just in the preliminary budget process to come up with a solid figure.”

Essex County has been critical of the tax cap.  Ferebee says it’s imposed without consideration of mandates placed on counties.   “They mandate us to do certain items that they’re giving us no financial assistance with. So if they could pick up some of the costs, whether it be Medicare, just different state mandated programs, that would clearly help us with the cap.”

The county received no comments regarding the tax cap on Monday. A tentative budget must be filed by the county manager on or before November 15th.   It will then be presented to the full board of supervisors. A hearing will follow later in November.
 

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