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Montgomery County supervisors tweak budget to erase tax increase

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
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— Despite Treasurer Shawn Bowerman’s professional recommendation the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors passed several hotly contested cuts before adopting their 2013 budget tonight.

The $92 million budget proposed in October would have raised the countywide property tax levy by 2.98 percent. In months of tweaking, supervisors brought that down to a tax levy decrease of 0.39 percent.

Some of those cuts were managed by St. Johnsville town Supervisor Dominick Stagliano just a few minutes before the months-long process wrapped up. He proposed an amendment carrying a long list of changes. Most were what he called “housekeeping,” but several added up to more than $800,000 in savings.

“My constituents will take a 13 percent property tax increase,” he said. “Don’t vote against the taxpayers.”

The meat of his savings were generated by a simple increase in optimism. He suggested Bowerman’s original county sales tax revenue projections were $650,000 short and should be adjusted accordingly.

Bowerman called the shift a massive gamble, pointing out that if the economy should take a turn for the worse, the county would be left with a large gap.

“Blowing it up like this might be a way to artificially take from the fund balance,” he said.

Florida town Supervisor William Strevy said his constituents will see a 7 percent increase in their tax rate, while many other towns will actually see a tax rate decrease.

“If there was ever a time to gamble on sales tax,” he said, “now is that time.”

Stagliano also suggested cutting unemployment insurance by $230,000 and fringe health insurance benefits by $200,000. Bowerman said those too were a gamble, and while he doesn’t currently expect any layoffs, if there are some, the county will be stuck with a larger bill.

Arguing against the changes stood Amsterdam town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza. He said the amendment came too late for the board to make an informed decision, and taxes are already as low as they need to be.

“The board has done a great job of keeping costs down,” he said. “Most towns have a lower tax rate than they did in 2006.”

Stagliano also wanted to cut two caseworker positions from the Department of Social Services budget that have sat unfilled for months. Amsterdam Third Ward Supervisor Ron Barone pointed out those positions were recently filled and they were restored to the amendment — much to the relief of Social Services Commissioner Mike McMahon

“We can’t do our job without caseworkers,” he said, explaining that to be officially hired as a caseworker, a candidate must take a civil service exam and the results can take many months to work their way through the slow-moving system.

The changes were passed with a healthy majority.

In other budget business, an additional $4,000 was allotted to the Meals on Wheals program, as well as $56,000 to buy two new vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office.

The adopted budget will draw $1.86 million from the roughly $4 million fund balance. Property owners in most towns will not see a huge change in their tax rates, with a few exceptions — Florida and St. Johnsville will either see a small property tax rate increase or decrease.

 
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