Proposed Saratoga County budget aims to contain costs
Property taxes increase slightly in spending proposal
Updated 7:42 p.m.
BALLSTON SPA The tentative 2014 Saratoga County released Thursday calls for a small property tax increase — about two or three dollars for most homes.
The average county property tax rate will rise by a penny per $1,000 assessed value, to $2.28, officials said. That means a home assessed at $200,000 would see an annual $2 tax increase on its annual bill in January, and one assessed at $300,000 would pay an additional $3.
“Saratoga County will continue to have one of the lowest tax rates in the state,” said County Administrator Spencer Hellwig.
The tentative spending plan released in Ballston Spa totals $313 million, up from $301 million this year — an increase county officials said was entirely due to the cost of Medicaid, higher pension payments and other costs mandated by the state.
“The one and only reason for this [property tax] increase is the unfunded state mandates,” Hellwig said.
The spending plan assumes that a deal to sell the money-losing Maplewood Manor nursing home will be signed by the end of this year and that the county will receive $4 million from the pending sale of the county landfill in Northumberland to Finch Paper.
It includes $500,000 for developing a new economic development plan for the county and $50,000 as the county share of what would be a comprehensive traffic management study for the Luther Forest Technology Campus and Northway Exit 11.
Supervisors recently hired a consultant to write a new strategic economic development plan for the county, and finding ways to attract new high-tech businesses to Luther Forest — where GlobalFoundries is located — is expected to be key.
“We should by the end of 2014 be in full stride to have a new economic development approach for Saratoga County,” said Law and Finance Committee Chairman Paul Sausville, R-Malta, who has overseen the budget preparation.
The budget calls for no new jobs, even though a hiring freeze over the past two years has eliminated 100 positions. There are no raises planned for management, elected officials or most unionized workers, since two of the county’s three unions are without a contract. Officials said $8.5 million in discretionary spending has already been cut, including modifications on health insurance coverage.
“This is quite an austere budget,” Sausville said.
The county’s 3 percent sales tax revenue, which grew 6 percent in 2012 and is expected to grow 3.2 percent this year, is being budgeted for a 2 percent increase. At $110 million — which is split with towns, cities and villages — it is expected to be the county’s biggest revenue source.
The property tax levy will be $52.4 million, up from $51.6 million this year.
The spending plan would draw only $1 million next year from the county’s $10 million fund balance — the lowest draw-down from that money since 2007.
“By the end of the year, we’ll have turned the corner on Maplewood Manor, and we can begin to rebuild the fund balance,” Sausville said.
Maplewood Manor, located in Ballston Spa, loses about $1.25 million a month — an expense the county has been subsidizing from its general fund for much of the past decade, leading to massive losses in recent years.
Sausville said the county expects to sign a contract to sell Maplewood Manor to a still-unnamed buyer by the end of this year, though the property transfer won’t take place before the end of next year.
The budget assumes $7.8 million in revenue from the infirmary, either from its sale or in borrowing against its sale to help cover next year’s losses. Total sale proceeds are expected to exceed $11 million.
“It’s going to provide good care for all the people over there, it’s just privatized,” Sausville said. “The people who work there will continue to do so.”
County board Chairman Alan R. Grattidge, R-Charlton, who didn’t attend the budget release press conference, said in a news release that it shows the county is recovering from past fiscal distress. A state comptroller’s report this summer rated the county as under “moderate stress” — a surprise to county leaders who pride themselves on the county’s fiscal condition — citing the repeated draw-downs in recent years from what was once a $30 million county surplus.
“The budget maintains low tax rates, takes fiscally conservative measures to rein in and control expenditures and continues forward on Maplewood Manor, the most significant fiscal challenge the county has ever faced,” Grattidge said. “Difficult decisions and discipline have gotten us to where we are, and those things are still needed.”
The tentative budget will be discussed by supervisors on Nov. 14 and will be the subject of a public hearing Dec. 3 in the county boardrooms. Adoption is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 11.