City officials in Plattsburgh held a public hearing Thursday night to discuss exceeding the state-mandated tax cap — and then they passed the 2018 budget.
In past years, Plattsburgh’s budget process would see the mayor presenting the proposed fiscal plan in October and the city council approving it by January 15th.
When Mayor Colin Read took office in January, he pledged to revamp the timeline and immediately begin the budget process in an effort to deal with shortfalls. The 2018 budget eliminates four city departments: IT, Recreation, Engineering and Human Resources. The fiscal plan includes a tax levy of 4.35 percent, above the state property tax cap of 1.0099 percent.
During a public hearing prior to the council meeting, only one city resident, Jeff Moore, spoke in hopes that councilors would meet the cap. “I’m sure the taxpayers would not mind as much if money was spent wisely. I hope you can get under the tax cap and the money gets directed to the things that it really needs in the city. And there’s been no unusual circumstances that causes us to keep raising the taxes.”
According to the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance, local governments can override the tax cap if they pass a local law with a 60 percent vote. The override vote and the adoption of the budget can occur on the same day. After Plattsburgh’s public hearing and work session Thursday evening , the Common Council entered its regular session and passed the override. Ward 1 Councilor Rachelle Armstrong pointed out that their override is routine. “I’d just like to point out for anybody who is new to this process that this is something that we adopt as a matter of course before we pass any budget.”
A few minutes after councilors overrode the tax cap the city’s $55 million spending plan was unanimously approved. Ward 2 Councilor Mike Kelly, the council budget officer, says this may be the earliest budget the common council has ever passed. “I feel really good about it because it allows our department heads to plan their spending and hopefully saving for the upcoming year well in advance of the start of the year. In the past we’ve passed a budget in January. Well, the year has already started so it doesn’t leave a lot of time to plan. So now we have the luxury of a few months to consider how we’re going to do that spending and more importantly how we’re going to get more efficient in government and reduce spending over the long haul. I think it’s interesting that even though we’re over the tax cap we are under the average tax increase for the city of Plattsburgh.”
Mayor Read discussed the expedited timeline: “It feels good because now it really allows us to start putting some things in place to actually bank some savings this year as well. That was one of the motivations behind it. The second motivation is we’re going to be going out to do a major bond issue in November. We needed to have the clarity of our budget, our reduced expenditures, the fact that we’re now balancing our budget and more to demonstrate to the bond markets that we’ve turned this around. So this is the right approach.”
Councilor Kelly notes that although the 2018 budget has been passed city officials will continue to look for savings. “Technically we cannot make changes to this budget until January of 2018. However we can continue those discussions and we will continue those discussions so that we may have a list of budget amendments lined up to reduce spending first meeting in January.”
The average household in Plattsburgh will have to pay an additional $45 in taxes to the city next year.