Essex County Considers 15% Tax Levy

Dec 5, 2013

The Essex County Board of Supervisors is debating whether to implement a 15 percent tax levy to help restore the county’s fund balance.

Officials in Essex County are trying to find a budget that will preserve its fund balance after New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released an audit on November 15th criticizing the Board of Supervisors for routinely relying “..on appropriating significant amounts of fund balance to finance operations.” County Manager Dan Palmer has presented a five-year plan, with a 15 percent tax levy that incrementally lowers over the course of the plan. Some supervisors want the plan to begin with a 9 percent tax levy. But Palmer doubts that would restore the fund, noting that last year county leaders used 6.8 million of the fund balance in a net 23-million dollar budget.

"So over thirty percent of your actual cost was being covered by the County savings account. And the problem is we don't have six-point-eight million left in the fund balance to put against this year 's levy even if we wanted to get back to what last year's was because that money's just not available. If we don't have any fund balance available, then we have to go out and borrow money."

The Essex County Board of Supervisors had already passed a measure overriding the state 2 percent tax cap. On Wednesday the Board met for six hours debating the budget plan. Finance Committee Chair Town of Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava is among those who wants a 9 percent levy.

"Right now we're projecting a fund balance of about 5.5 million. Which actually should be closer to ten million so you can meet the warrants and so on. We've made major staff reduction over the past few years and there has been some major cuts and the net budget is down by over a million dollars. Course that's also attributable to the sale of the nursing home. But I still think there's more areas where we can find another eight hundred thousand to a million dollars  to cut the budget, which would decrease that percentage to nine percent."

Dan Palmer says it is possible to lower the 15-percent rate, but something would have to be permanently cut from the budget, or a larger base fund balance would be needed at the start of the five-year plan.

"If you use nine percent, over the course of that five years, we would end up with less than fifty thousand dollars in our fund balance.  Now that almost assures us that we are gonna have to  borrow in the fifth year to pay our warrants.  If you start at fifteen percent, you will have four million left in fund balance at the end of five years. Now, what does that mean to the actual taxpayer? It gives the big jump in the first year,  but over the course of the five years, the actual increase to the tax rate remains virtually the same."

Both believe the root of the problem is the state’s 2 percent tax cap, which Scozzafava calls unrealistic.

"It's impossible to try and meet that cap unless you use your fund balance. So it's a Catch-22 situation. I totally disagree with the Comptroller 's office in regards to fund balance. I don't think that we need to carry twelve to fifteen million dollars of fund balance.  That's taxpayers money."

The Board of Supervisors will meet again on December 17th to attempt to finalize the budget, which is due on December 20th.