As presented, taxes up 8%-plus


By David Avitabile

Skyrocketing health insurance costs, flat revenues, and a declining tax base could saddle Schoharie County property owners with a sizable tax hike for 2017.
Property owners in 10 of the 16 towns in the county could see a tax hike of more than eight percent, according to the tentative budget released by county Administrator Steve Wilson on Friday.
The potential tax hikes in the $75.5 million spending plan range from a high of 10.5 percent in the Town of Gilboa to a low of 4.9 percent in Summit.
Overall spending is up by $4.2 million in the tentative budget.
Much of this is due to a hike of $894,000 in health insurance costs, according to Mr. Wilson.
The increase in health insurance costs is expected to be 13 percent for next year.
"That's pretty awful," Mr. Wilson said.
The county needs to find a way to keep the health insurance cost reasonable while maintaining the benefits for employees, he said.
"We have to explore that."
A new health care consultant may help in that regard, he added.
According to the tentative spending plan, the proposed tax levy is up by 5.77 percent or $1.2 million to $21.9 million for 2017.
The amount of taxable real property in the county dropped from $1.56 billion to $1.51 billion, a decrease of more than $47 million or three percent.
Mr. Wilson was not certain was caused the huge decrease in taxable property but surmised it may have to be because of the numerous payment lieu of taxes agreements in the county.
The proposed budget, which now goes to the finance committee for review and alterations, includes several new positions.
These include a new investigator for the Sheriff's Office, seven new part-time and full-time positions in the Health Department, an aging services specialist for the Office for the Aging, a full-time administrator assistant for the county administrator and a part-time budget analyst in the administrator's office.
Mr. Wilson noted that the OFA position is fully state reimbursed and some of the upgrades in the Health Department for early intervention, are from part-time to full-time.
He noted that no funding has been budgeted for the ongoing streambank rehabilitation project.
Mr. Wilson expects state and federal funding to come in during the year and predicts the revenues will match the expenses.
"I see it as a net zero," he said.
"Pretty solid estimates" on the remaining costs should be finalized soon, he added.
He expects many changes to the proposed budget.
"I look at it as the beginning of the budget process rather then the end," he said Monday.
The finance committee will now have its say.
"They're going to have a lot of comments and we are going to go through all those and discuss them."