Woodstock supervisor Jeff Moran on October 4 unveiled a tentative 2012 town budget that apparently complies with a new state law limiting property tax increases to 2 percent over the previous year’s levy.
Although the proposed $6.87 million spending plan actually calls for an increase of 2.47 percent in the townwide levy — the portion of the total budget funded by all taxpayers—it appears to conform to the statewide tax cap when mandatory pension contributions above 2 percent are excluded from the calculation of the cap, as the law permits. The amount by which such contributions exceed 2 percent may be added to the levy even if the resulting increase is greater than 2 percent.
The townwide levy consists of the general fund and the highway fund, which are subject to approval by the Town Board; the library budget, which voters must approve; and the fire district budget, which is not subject to voter approval and cannot be modified or rejected by the Town Board. In September voters approved a library budget containing a 2 percent increase. The proposed fire district budget would raise the tax levy by 2.4 percent, but would comply with the tax cap after the exclusion of pension contributions in excess of 2 percent. A pubic hearing on the fire district budget is scheduled for October 18.
Excluding the townwide levy, the remainder of the budget, amounting to approximately $370,000, is funded by taxes paid by residents who receive the services of special districts, namely, the water, hamlet sewer, on-site sewer, Woodstock lighting, and garden lights districts. The only special districts whose 2012 budgets are increased from 2011 (independent of the rise in the townwide levy) are the water district, hamlet sewer district, and on-site sewer district; for each affected district the increase amounts to 2 percent, reflecting salary raises.
Moran’s tentative budget posits an estimated 2012 townwide levy of $6.49 million, up from $6.33 million in 2011. Excluding mandatory pension contributions but including a 2 percent cost-of-living salary increase for employees, the levy for the general fund would increase by about 2.76 percent over the 2011 level, although general-fund expenditures would decrease by 3.5 percent, according to the supervisor’s calculations. The drop in spending, said Moran, is largely due to personnel reductions — not in the form of layoffs, but as a result of decreased hours or redefined duties for some employees and a decision not to fill certain vacant positions, such as planning specialist and director of the youth program.
The tax levy for the highway fund in the tentative budget is increased by 2.67 percent, mainly as a result of increased pension costs and a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for employees of the Highway Department.
The next step toward the adoption of a final municipal budget by November 20 is the preparation of a preliminary budget following the Town Board’s review of the tentative plan and meetings with department heads and other town officials. A public hearing on the preliminary budget is scheduled for Tuesday, November 1. At an upcoming October meeting the board is scheduled to consider a proposed local law that would override the state tax cap, but in his message accompanying the tentative budget Moran deemed such an action unnecessary.
“My (tentative) budget does not contemplate such an override, as I believe the town can and should live within the means provided by a 2 percent cap on the tax levy,” said the two-term supervisor, who is not seeking reelection in the fall. “I agree with the intent of the tax cap legislation, which is aimed at making New York State more affordable for its property owners, who bear the principal burden of financing school districts and…municipalities.”