A tentative budget in the Saratoga County village of Ballston Spa carries a nearly 26 percent tax increase. The mayor has said that number will likely decrease. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports the public heard more details about the spending plan Monday night.
The local VFW hall was filled Monday as the Ballston Spa village board brought the fiscal year 2019 budget hearing out of the small village office to a larger space.
Explaining how the tentative budget came to include a 25.9 percent tax increase, Mayor John Romano spent time reflecting on past financial decisions made by the village.
For example, in 2008-2009, Ballston Spa experienced a 10 percent tax decrease, attributed to transferring public safety dispatching services to the county sheriff.
“In hindsight the village should have continued to increase the tax rate by between a 5 or 6 percent growth factor as it had historically implemented when necessary to address increases in annual operating costs,” said Romano. “Who would’ve known that a year later the New York state Legislature would’ve imposed a tax cap.”
The state’s tax cap law requires municipalities to limit their spending growth to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Any local government must therefore pass additional legislation to override the cap.
The increased costs facing the village are largely routine, including a bump in insurance and scheduled pay raises. At the time, some revenues, like public safety fees, have decreased over the years.
Village trustee Noah Shaw offered several solutions that he admitted would be difficult to swallow. Going into technical details, he suggested a reassessment of village properties to determine up-to-date property values.
“Here in Ballston Spa, the Equalization Rate is 4.72. Most surrounding communities are 100 percent. And that’s because we haven’t had a reassessment in 25 years,” said Shaw.
Mayor Romano was skeptical of a reassessment.
“Properties that haven’t been sold for a very long time will see their assessed values substantially increase. Rent is likely to go up and perhaps affect a number of low income rental units available for our Section 8 program. Fixed income residents will be impacted the most. Those things I can guarantee you will happen with reassessment. I can’t tell you that we’re going to get more revenues or not. I don’t think we will.”
Another suggestion was boosting the rates for services provided to neighboring communities, like water and fire protection rates, which are lower than in surrounding municipalities.
“We need to renegotiate those contracts and we need to do it now,” said Shaw.
Local developer Frank Rossi Jr. cautioned against raising the cost of services, risking a pushback from customers.
“It’s better to have revenue than zero revenue if you end up losing those contracts, ultimately, because you didn’t do the research and you thought you could just push up those rates,” said Rossi Jr.
Village resident Liz Kornos was concerned about the lack of a reserve fund in the village budget.
“Not having a reserve fund to plan for major expenditures, pushing us against unforseen expenses and be able to apply for grants is irresponsible,” said Kornos.
Because the village does not have a reserve, last year it was forced to take out a $600,000 short-term loan to pay for public works equipment. Department heads have warned of looming equipment replacement costs.
Several in the audience sought the attention of the village treasurer, who prepared the tentative budget but was not at the meeting.
The village board also heard suggestions from former mayor Jim Capasso Jr., who served in the early 90s.
“I wish you would appoint a budget advisory committee. A committee of citizens that live in this village and want to take the budget apart and look at it piece by piece. Analyze every nickel that we spend,” said Capasso Jr.
Beginning Tuesday night, the village board will begin a second series of eight public budget workshops with department heads. Final budget adoption is expected April 23.
Upcoming budget meetings:
1) Police Chief – Tuesday April 10 @ 6:00 pm
2) Working Supervisor DPW – Thursday April 12 @ 6:00 pm
3) Village Justice – Friday April 13 @ 6:00 pm
4) Fire Department, Fire Chiefs – Monday April 16 @ 6:00 pm
5) EML Captain – Tuesday April 17 @ 6:00 pm
6) UFC Foreman – Wednesday April 18 @ 6:00 pm
7) Fire Police Captain – Thursday April 19 @ 6:00 pm
8) Librarian – Friday April 20 @ 6:00 pm