The town of Saugerties is working to trim its tentative budget, called a “wish list” document by supervisor Greg Helsmoortel, but will likely have to exceed the state’s property tax cap. Helsmoortel is hoping that the town board can whittle the 2017 tax increase to somewhere in the two to three percent range, from where the “wish list” stands now, somewhere around 9 percent.
“Upstairs the governor is telling me 0.68 percent. Downstairs, in mediation provided by the state, they’re telling me we can’t get away with less than a 2 percent employee raise. And there’s no relief on health insurance,” said Helsmoortel in an October 12 interview. “Health insurance we were hoping 10 (percent increase) would be a lot. They just projected 17. So of course we’re shopping. But I doubt we’ll do much better. A couple of illnesses will hurt our rate.”
As the tentative document stands currently, the townwide general fund will spend $8,694,399, an increase of $426,864 from 2016, with non-tax estimated revenues down slightly. The tax levy for this fund would then increase by $428,964. There is a decrease in the amount of taxes to be collected from the General Town Outside Village fund of $36,965, and projected taxes from the Highway Fund come out dead even with 2016.
The total town tax levy, not including fire districts, library operations and ambulance services projects under the tentative budget is at $10,285,088. Those districts can add as much as $3.5 million to the tax levy.
“Unfortunately, we’ll probably have to vote to go over the cap,” said Helsmoortel. “We had the public hearing for the local law we’d have to pass to go over it. There were some citizens there that were very sincere, pleading not to pierce the cap. So then you start looking at it again. But I don’t know how we can not do it. We’ve cut every non-essential service that there is.”
He explained where the board will look for more cuts. “We’ll probably cut some of recreation. There are fewer employees than there were at the beginning of the year. And there’s no plan to replace full-timers that have left. But the ambulance, they’re looking at maybe another $100,000. We certainly don’t want to give up on ambulance services. We’re not going to cut rec at Cantine Field, that’s a big asset in the town. Our ice rink is self-sustaining.”
He set his sights on what he considers the best possible outcome.
“Maybe two or three percent (tax increase] for a goal,” said the supervisor. “There’s so much involved in this. We’re getting our history together to show the public. I’m confident it will come down from that nine. I refer to [the tentative budget] as a wish list. That’s as any business would do.”
Helsmoortel spoke of the tax cap. “I think the original intention of the cap had merit. It really forced your hand to cut deeper than you were comfortable with, but you did it. Our residents got rebates from the state, depending on your assessment. But they’re not doing that this year, so residents won’t get that.
“The cap has lived its life. The state continually puts more and more unfunded mandates on you. Thank God the county has been really good to municipalities the last couple of years with taking over Safety Net and election costs. That’s helped tremendously.”
And he pointed to progress the town has made since the recession eased. “Our Standard & Poor’s rating is back up, our fund balance is back up. We’re off the fiscal stress list … We’ll continue to have department head and liaison meetings. The public hearing on budget is November 2. Ten days after that you have to pass it. We will present as close to a final budget as possible at public hearing. If it’s bad, it’s bad. I’m not going to hide anything.”