Tax cut in county budget?


By Jim Poole

Schoharie County may enjoy a cut in the county tax rate for the second straight year.

Planning to release the tentative 2008 budget on Monday, Treasurer Bill Cherry said preliminary figures show the cut is likely to be six percent.

That would be on top of a 11.6-percent cut in the 2007 budget.

Mr. Cherry expected spending to rise slightly over 2007’s $56.5 million, and he’s recommending hiring 12 new employees and channeling more money to tourism promotion.

He cautioned, however, that his figures are preliminary, and the Board of Supervisors may make changes.

Although the overall tax-rate cut will be about six percent, Mr. Cherry said state equalization rates will affect each town differently. Nine of the 16 will see a cut, three will stay about the same, and four will see an increase.

He estimated the tax rate for 2008 will be $7.84 per $1,000 of assessed value, representing a tax cut of 17.3 percent over two years.

Several factors combined for the cut in the tax rate. One is that total taxable value of real property grew 12 percent in a year because of new construction and subdivisions.

“There’s been an influx of property owners from the southern part of the state,” Mr. Cherry said. “In Greene County, it’s been huge; for us, less so. But you’re still seeing a lot of it in Gilboa and Conesville.”

And to some degree, there’s interest from Capital District homeowners.

“But like everyone else, real estate is kind of stuck in first gear because of the mortgage and credit crunch,” Mr. Cherry said.

The fact that the county is debt-free also influenced the cut, he added. In the past, the county budget carried $1.5 million in debt service.

“This is the long-range effect of being vigilant about county finances,” Mr. Cherry said. “That $1.5 million just isn’t there anymore.”

Also, he said, $245,000 from the county’s Gas Tax Reserve Fund will go to reduce property taxes.

As for spending increases, several county departments requested a total of 12 new positions, and Mr. Cherry said he included them––with reservations––in the tentative budget.

“If the Board of Supervisors approves, the money’s there,” Mr. Cherry said. “But the board should evaluate the requests.

“If we hire 12 this year, then eight next year, then 10, we’re starting a trend that will come back to bite us. Those days of holding the budget bloat are gone.”

The tentative budget also includes $150,000 for the county Chamber of Commerce for tourism promotion. More than half of the figure is for a one-time demographic study of visitors and the hiring of a full-time tourism coordinator.

Mr. Cherry added that supervisors should evaluate the money for the Chamber every year, and the amount may be less in the future.

Other spending highlights, he said, are an additional $200,000 for highway paving––on top of the $400,000 spent annually––and $100,000 to help create a firefighter training facility in Howes Cave.

After he presents the budget to supervisors on Monday, the Finance Committee will review it and supervisors will hold a public hearing in November.