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Sales tax still base of Clifton Park budget

Highway tax rise seen; sports field work hoped for

Wednesday, October 3, 2012
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— Town Supervisor Phil Barrett has proposed a $21 million budget for 2013 that includes a 3 percent increase in the highway tax.

The tentative budget continues the town’s tradition of not having a property tax for the general fund and instead relying mainly on sales tax revenue.

Barrett proposes the general fund at $15.97 million for next year and the highway fund at $5.1 million. The town also would continue to not have debt from capital projects, in keeping with its “save first, invest later” policy, he said.

“We feel that we need to maintain that policy moving forward, especially with the many headwinds that are still facing our community,” he said, noting that national and international issues like the outcome of the presidential election, unrest in the Middle East and rising gas and commodity prices all could affect the town.

For a homeowner with the median assessment of $150,000, the highway tax bill would be $30 a year.

The town is also in good shape with a $11 million fund balance, and Barrett aims to discuss some capital project possibilities with the Town Board.

“I want to get a capital project plan approved over the next couple of months to prioritize various infrastructure projects,” he said. Money for the town’s capital projects comes out of its general fund.

Among the possibilities for capital projects in the next few years: maintaining basketball courts, soccer fields and softball fields at Clifton Common and repairing or replacing a pavilion and other amenities at Collins Park.

Barrett has kept projections for sales tax revenue conservative in the 2013 budget, he said. That’s because the last few years the town had seen a decline in sales tax revenue as people cut back on spending in the tough economy.

But this year’s revenue is higher than the town expected to get, meaning that the town won’t need to use $650,000 from its fund balance to balance the budget. Barrett plans to budget another $650,000 from the fund balance again in 2013 to balance the budget.

Basing a budget mainly on sales tax revenue is something of a gamble, Barrett said.

When a property tax makes up most of the budget, “you know how much money you’re going to get.

“You can depend on that revenue stream.”

Not so with a sales tax.

Large expenses next year include health insurance and retirement for employees and a bulk trash pick-up event.

This year, the town saved some money by renegotiating its employee health insurance plans, paying $1.16 million for insurance premiums in 2012 compared to $1.49 million in 2011.

Next year, the town expects to pay $1.25 million for health insurance.

Payments that the town makes to the state for its employees’ retirement are expected to increase by $207,000 in 2013. That bill has nearly tripled since 2010, Barrett said.

All town programs and services will remain intact in the 2013 proposed budget; but the community development director job will be reduced from full- to part-time, saving $40,000.

Next year, the town plans to hold a spring bulk waste pick-up for residents to put out big trash items that a company contracted by the town will pick up without charging residents. The town pays $100,000 for the service.

The event had previously been held in the fall, but this year officials decided to forgo it to save money.

“Hopefully we can continue to offer it on an annual basis,” Barrett said.

The proposed budget falls below the tax levy cap set by New York state, which is based on a 2 percent cap but varies for each municipality and school district based on a complicated formula.

Barrett expects the Town Board to vote on the budget in November.

Before the end of this year, Clifton Park will upgrade its communication system, replacing its analog radios with digital ones before the Federal Communications Commission phases out the older frequencies. The $200,000 project is expected to be done in late November or early December.

 
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