Taxes up in Schoharie County budget


By Jim Poole

A combination of factors will hike Schoharie County taxes in 2016, according to the preliminary county budget.
Decreasing revenue, a continuing slow economy and falling payments from the state and federal government could raise taxes 5.73 percent, according to Treasurer Bill Cherry.
Not only that, but the projected tax levy is $1.1 to $1.2 million over the state-imposed tax-levy cap, requiring special approval by the Board of Supervisors.
"Budgets across the state are as tight as we can make them," Mr. Cherry said.
"There's not a county treasurer or exec who wouldn't love to lower taxes."
Mr. Cherry plans to present the $72.1 million tentative budget to the Board of Supervisors this week.
Although spending is down $13.7 million from this year, revenues are expected to drop even more steeply--by $15.2 million--leaving a $1.5 million gap, Mr. Cherry said.
The county depends on two revenue streams, sales taxes and property taxes, and a sluggish economy that results in lower sales taxes is pushing the projected revenue down.
"When sales tax is lower and the cost of government is flat or goes up--like it always does--property taxes will go up," Mr. Cherry said.
State and federal mandates also have an impact. For some mandatory programs, Albany and Washington are decreasing their share of payments, forcing the county to pick up the tab.
"State government and the feds are tightening the screws, reducing their share of paying for services," Mr. Cherry said.
The budget does take $1.1 million out of fund balance, or savings, to keep the tax hike smaller than it would be otherwise.
Taking more money from fund balance would be dangerous because the county might need that money in later years, Mr. Cherry said. If it comes out now, it wouldn't be replaced.
Pulling more from the fund balance "would be temporary, like a shot of Novocaine," Mr. Cherry said.
"Draining the fund balance will hurt a lot more in the future than a five-percent tax increase now."
He described the tentative budget as maintaining "the county government services we're used to" but pointed to two services in the budget.
One is the county administrator, Steve Wilson, whose salary will be $100,000.
The second is a new economic development agency. Mr. Cherry has handled economic development this year but said he lacks the time to go further.
The new agency would have one full-time and one part-time position, with salaries totaling $98,000.
"For me to continue, there's really not enough hours in the day," Mr. Cherry said.
"But it's really important to have an economic development agency. I don't think it's an optional thing."
Under the proposed budget, the equalized average county tax rate would rise from the current $8.78 per $1,000 of assessed value to $9.28 per $1,000.
Equalization rates assigned to each town by the state would make the tax rate vary by town, however.
After Mr. Cherry presents the budget to the Board of Supervisors, the Finance Committee will review it.
The full board is expected to work on the budget in November.