Schoharie County budget proposal cuts taxes
SCHOHARIE COUNTY Most property owners would see a decrease in their county tax rate under the tentative 2014 budget released Tuesday by Schoharie County Treasurer William Cherry.
The $71.7 million spending proposal would cut the county property tax rate by an average of 1.52 percent while increasing pay for members of the county’s Board of Supervisors, as well as non-union county employees.
Under Cherry’s plan, the county would collect $370,033 more in taxes in 2014, an increase of 1.98 percent. This is possible despite the tax rate decrease because the overall value of property in the county is growing.
The county’s full value of taxable property will increase by slightly more than $77 million, or 3.54 percent, to about $2.26 billion in 2014.
The fund balance — the county’s rainy day fund, which Cherry describes as a “critical cornerstone” for fiscal health — would be set at $6.76 million, slightly below the comfortable 10 percent of appropriations, which would be $7.17 million.
Cherry proposes putting a total of $621,214 in fund balance toward the general fund in 2014, money that will help cut taxes for most residents.
The average property tax rate now stands at $8.56 per $1,000 in assessed value, a figure that would drop to $8.43 under the tentative 2014 budget, a 1.52 percent reduction.
The tax rates in individual towns, taking the state’s equalization rates into account, would range from an 8.64 percent cut in Fulton to a 10.98 percent increase in Gilboa.
Property values in Gilboa haven’t been updated in decades, resulting in the total tax rate in the southern Schoharie County town being $440.60 per $1,000. It would rise to $488.96 per $1,000 under the spending proposal.
The only other tax rate increase would be a 7.88 percent jump in Conesville, from $7.87 per $1,000 to $8.49.
Taxpayers in the remaining 14 Schoharie County towns would see tax rate decreases ranging from Fulton’s 8.64 percent to 0.12 percent in Richmondville.
Factors including the decreasing tax levy, rising property values, a solid fund balance and no job cuts make 2014 an ideal year for the county to consider raises for department heads, non-union employees and county supervisors, Cherry said.
The Board of Supervisors this year completed contract negotiations with CSEA employees, some of whom now earn more than the department heads who supervise them, Cherry said.
The CSEA members got a pay hike of 3 percent in 2010 and 2011, zero in 2012, 1 percent this year and 1.5 percent for 2014.
With additional seniority pay increases, Cherry estimates union members have seen their pay increase by a total of about 17 percent during the past five years.
But nonunion employees, including department heads, saw their pay change by 2.5 percent during the same time, he said.
“I have tried to be as absolutely fair as I can,” he said, adding he has no doubts the pay hikes will be debated by the Board of Supervisors.
Pay hikes for nonunion employees and department heads vary in the tentative 2014 budget, with some getting no increase, many in line for an 8 percent raise and a few getting more than 20 percent.
The county Board of Elections provides a good example of the wide range of proposed changes:
Both election commissioners would see the pay boosted for their part-time positions from $16,275 to $20,000. A deputy election commissioner who is currently paid $37,998 would get $47,372, a 24.6 percent increase. The other deputy election commissioner would go from $51,519 this year to $52,019 in 2014.
County supervisors, who have a board meeting monthly and also attend committee meetings, would see their current $12,075 annual pay increase by 8 percent, or $966. The board chairman is paid $21,000 a year and would also get an 8 percent increase, to $22,680.
The supervisors also earn a separate town-level salary for leading their respective towns.
There is one major change in county spending that would have little immediate impact on county finances: The county budgeted $16 million for 2013 for post-Irene stream repairs. That budget line is being cut to $6 million for 2014.
The huge numbers are not affecting property taxes this year because the county is borrowing the money. In 2014, the county will have to pay $290,000 in interest on the 2013 borrowing, but the county expects to be reimbursed by the state and federal governments for most of the $22 million project.
The spending plan will now undergo review by the Board of Supervisors’ Finance Committee.
Committee Chairman J. Carl Barbic said the committee will likely make changes. He said he has ideas of possible modifications but declined to voice them before the committee meets.
In terms of salary changes, he said boosting salaries for department heads and others considered underpaid is overdue in Schoharie County. He said he’s questioned how some salaries were devised.
“They weren’t fair. Some were too high, some were too low,” Barbic said.
The Finance Committee is expected to start meeting with department heads this month. The board will hold a public hearing in November, and it can modify the tentative budget until Dec. 20, at which point it becomes the official 2014 spending plan.