Budget now cuts tax levy

FONDA – Montgomery County’s 2014 tentative budget now calls for a 3 percent tax decrease.

In early October, the county’s preliminary budget for 2014 had a 2 percent tax-levy increase. After discussing budget amendments Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors decided to use money from the fund balance to lower taxes.

County Treasurer Shawn Bowerman appropriated $2.3 million from the $7.4 million unappropriated balance for the 2014 budget. The board appropriated an additional $1,605,000 from the fund balance Tuesday, leaving about $3.5 million in the account.

Florida Town Supervisor William Strevy proposed using money from the fund balance.

“There’s quite a large tax increase in the town of Florida. I believe we were up over 4 percent and I’m hoping we can bring that down,” Strevy said. “I know the county is at a 2 percent tax increase, but because of the equalization rate, I believe myself and some other municipalities like St. Johnsville are looking at abnormal increases.”

Amsterdam Town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza strongly disagreed with Strevy.

“I’m totally against using the fund balance any more than what we’ve already appropriated,” DiMezza said. “We just had an audit that stated that we use too much fund balance per year. Then to go again and basically start this legislature off with a broken leg by appropriating more fund balance than what we need to.”

DiMezza was referring to the new county legislature that will take effect at the start of the year, replacing the county’s Board of Supervisors. The county also will have an elected county executive starting next month.

Minden Supervisor Thomas Quackenbush agreed with DiMezza , saying the board was not being fair to the new legislature and county executive by taking more of the fund balance.

“We have been criticized in the past when we cherry pick,” Quackenbush said. “I remember back in 2006 and 2007 when we used $1.6 million of the fund balance because the city of Amsterdam’s taxes were up and the town of Mohawk’s were up and we wanted to get them down exactly like we’re talking about doing tonight.”

City of Amsterdam 3rd Ward Supervisor Ronald Barone Sr. didn’t think the increased appropriated fund balance would have any effect on the new legislature.

“The county’s sales tax is up,” Barone said. “You’re not going to hurt any legislature that’s coming in here. They’ll be well set no matter if you take $1.5 million of $10 million out of the fund balance. This county always seems to dig its way out of a hole.”

All of the supervisors voted for the resolution except for Quackenbush and DiMezza. Second Ward Supervisor Jeffrey Stark and 1st Ward Supervisor Vito Greco were absent.

Bowerman said he thought the board made the wrong choice, especially after receiving the state comptroller’s audit in October.

“The board got the audit from the state criticizing them for using too much of the fund balance and they turned around and did the same thing over again,” Bowerman said. “It’s totally irresponsible what they did with the use of the fund balance. I’m not against reducing taxes, but right now, you’re looking at over a 3 percent tax decrease, which is almost $1 million less on the tax levy than what was collected last year, so that’s what puts the county behind moving forward.”

Bowerman said he thought the county should not have been trying to adjust the tax rates for individual municipalities because its “an independent issue with assessing each municipality.”

He said the new legislature will be a refreshing start for the county’s budget.

“You’ll have seven new perspectives on the budget, so I believe we can only go in a better direction like we have the past few years,” he said.

Bowerman said the county is fortunate the sales tax revenue has been doing well. The sales-tax revenue in the third quarter this year was about $4.26 million, which was about a $400,000 increase compared to the second quarter.

He said the county didn’t cut spending with the increased fund balance, but supervisors did cut the tax levy.

He said certain municipalities were significantly affected by the board’s decision.

“The city [of Amsterdam] is looking at a 7.6 percent tax decrease. And the town of Glen is looking at a 3.5 percent tax increase,” he said.

The county will continue to work on the budget over the next two weeks. A public hearing on the budget will take place Dec. 17. The county board may adopt the budget at that time.

Casey Croucher can be reached at ccroucher@leaderherald.com.