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Tax Relief in 2016
Madigan Proposes 0.14 Percent Property Tax Reduction
SARATOGA SPRINGS – At the Saratoga Springs City Council meeting on Tuesday, October 6, Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan detailed the proposed 2016 Saratoga Springs City Budget, under which City residents will see a 0.14 percent decrease in their property taxes.
The proposed 2016 tax rates are - inside district: $6.0593 per $1,000 of assessed property value; outside district: $5.982 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
What this translates to, for a taxpayer inside the district with a home with an assessed value of $250,000, their property tax bill in 2016 will be $1,514.83 – a reduction of $2.70 from 2015.
This is the fourth City budget that Commissioner Madigan has put forth with virtually no increase in property tax. The 2016 Budget year is also the second year of the NYS Property Tax Freeze Credit. If the City stays within the tax levy cap and receives State approval of its Government Efficiencies Plan, qualified homeowners will also receive a freeze credit. “Saratoga Springs taxpayers can expect to receive both a tax decrease and a tax rebate”, stated Commissioner Madigan.
The total budget in 2016 will rise by $2,081,557 over 2015, to $43,841,077. The majority of the increase, $1.65 million, or 79 percent, is due to contractual wage and health insurance cost increases. The proposed budget offsets these and other increases with forecasts of a two percent increase in sales and mortgage taxes over amounts projected for 2015, bringing in an additional $1.43 million. Also, hotel occupancy tax is forecast to increase by $140,100; building permits another $50,000, and franchise tax (collected on local gross cable revenue) about $45,000.
The budget does not contain any potential one-time revenues the city might derive from the sale/lease of either the Collamer or High Rock parking lot. Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) aid was projected at the 2013 level, or $1.827 million, in anticipation of a potential impact of expanded casino gaming in the region on city revenues.
Four budget workshops are currently scheduled: Thursday, October 8 at 5 p.m., Wednesday October 14 at 1 p.m., Wednesday, October 21 at 1 p.m. and Monday, October 26 at 6 p.m. Each workshop will be designated for specific departments, with time allotted at each workshop for general discussion after departments are finished. There will also be a Public Comment period at each workshop.
Also, two public hearings are required, with the first to be held at 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday, October 20, before the regular City Council meeting and another to be scheduled once the City Council has made adjustments to the plan. Under the city’s charter, the finance commissioner proposes a comprehensive budget at the first City Council meeting in October. Through workshops and meetings, the City Council can vote to change the budget in November or simply adopt it as proposed. The council must adopt a budget by November 30; if it doesn’t, the proposed budget detailed last Tuesday will become the 2016 adopted budget.
The complete 2016 budget proposal can be viewed in its entirety on the city’s website at www.saratoga-springs.org
Saratoga Springs Ends 2014 Fiscal Year Balanced and in The Black
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan reports that 2014 City general fund (operating budget) revenues and expenses have come in largely balanced. Unaudited year-end figures reveal small annual operating surplus in the amount of $91,082. “This is budgeting at its best. Departments did exactly what I recommended - ask for the funds needed and use the funds received. Budgeting is planning and this is clear evidence of a good and well-implemented plan,” states Madigan.
Actual 2014 revenue collected totaled $41,283,865. Actual 2014 expenditures totaled $41,192,783. “The City Departments did an excellent job managing their budgets and this will service the City and taxpayers well in the future,” the Commissioner stated.
For 2014, the City is required to have a unassigned, unappropriated fund balance between $4,175,952 and $6,263,928. Unaudited figures indicate that the City’s unassigned, unappropriated fund balance will be in excess of the maximum amount by about $1.54 million. City policy requires that any funds in excess of the maximum allowable amount be utilized, and the Commissioner of Finance is required to make recommendations to the City Council regarding the use of such funds, following an independent audit.
Madigan states that, as in years past, these funds will be returned to the taxpayers. “I have kept the property tax rate stable for three years with my recommendations to create, strengthen, and tap reserves; contribute to critical capital needs, such as infrastructure and equipment; plan for future retirement needs; and set aside funds to settle long expired labor contracts.”
The City has fortified its reserves over the last several years, a fact that has contributed to its high bond rating of AA+ and helped it obtain low interest rates on bonds for capital projects. These reserves and other designations will be key to future planning in the face of possible VLT revenue decline. “VLT revenue is currently 4.4% of the City’s operating budget. Losing any amount of this, especially as we retain the expenses of the host City, is a challenge that my administration has been preparing for. Using fund balance excess wisely has been part of those preparations.”
Both the Water and Sewer Funds also ended FY 2014 with annual operating surpluses. After carrying operating deficits for several years, these funds have been improving since 2009, and have made substantial inroads on the repayment of a debt to the general fund.
Madigan: City of Saratoga Springs 2013 YEAR-END FINANCES STRONG AND IN THE BLACK
SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan reports that 2013 City general fund (operating budget)
revenues have outpaced City expenses, and unaudited year-end figures reveal an annual operating
surplus. For 2013, the City is required to have a fund balance between $4,044,002 and $6,066,003.
Unaudited figures indicate that the surplus resulted in a fund balance that is in excess of the
maximum amount by about $1.7 million.
The 2013 surplus is driven by higher than expected revenues coupled with lower than budgeted
expenses. Actual revenue collected totaled $41,585,774. Actual expenditures totaled $38,846,104.
On the revenue side: Mortgage tax collection was unexpectedly high, building permits and planning
board fees followed suit. VLT Aid, distributed by the state to offset the costs of hosting VLTs, was
increased by $331,251 by the State in the late spring of 2013 (after the City’s budget had been adopted).
The City ambulance program also collected more revenue than anticipated, and sales tax revenue
topped out at $10.65 million – the highest collection that the City has ever experienced. In sum,
revenues collected were $848,872 more than amounts budgeted.
On the expense side: Due to adjustments to new health insurance programs and slower than
anticipated hiring for new positions (and those left open by employee turnover), expenditures for
employee benefits and personal service funds were lower than had been budgeted. Commissioner
Madigan cautions Departments to forecast expenses carefully. “I will be scrutinizing this in 2014 through
2015. We must strive to establish a balanced budget that adequately funds the delivery of solid essential
services in a safe community.
Commissioner Madigan states “these funds should be returned to the taxpayers, possibly through
reduced property tax rates if closer scrutiny of departmental budgets and expected revenues reveal
that this would be sustainable”. Madigan points out that she has kept property taxes low with her
recommendations to: create and strengthen reserves that have helped keep annual changes to the tax
rate at or near 0% for two years; contribute to critical capital needs, such as infrastructure and
equipment; plan for future retirement needs; and, she has set aside funds to settle long expired labor
City policy requires that any funds in excess of the maximum allowable Fund Balance be utilized, and the
Commissioner of Finance is required to make recommendations to the City Council regarding the use of
such funds. There is one long awaited project that she will recommend for immediate attention:
updating the City website. Limited resources and funding has made upgrading the website a challenge
in recent years. “This is beneficial to our citizens, the business community, City departments and our
City. The City website is a portal to City government and a vital gateway to the City. This is an
opportunity to use one time funding for a one time project that is universally beneficial.”
Matt Veitch Steps Up
New Role At Board Of Supervisors Brings Increased Impact On All County Residents’ Lives
BALLSTON SPA – Matthew E. Veitch is beginning his fourth two-year term as Saratoga County Supervisor, one of two supervisors representing the City of Saratoga Springs. Each year, the board elects new officers and for 2014, he was elected vice-chairman.
As such, he will assume the chair the board of supervisors’ important law and finance committee, which renders an advisory opinion on virtually every matter that involves any expenditure of county money.
He also will have primary responsibility for the preparation of the county’s 2015 budget and is chairman of the board of supervisors’ agenda meeting. By rule, given that he will not face re-election, he is also in a direct line to become 2015’s chairman of the board.
All told, this means he is in an increased position to have an impact on every Saratoga County resident’s lives. We sat down at a local coffee shop to discuss the workings of county government and to gain some insights as to some of the things he hopes to achieve in this increased capacity.
How does the process of being elected to the chair and vice-chair work? Is it a true election akin to running for office?
MV: Yes and no. There is an actual vote to ratify officers, but unlike a general public election there are different rules in which seniority controls. The chairman is the most senior member of the majority party (Republican), who has not previously served as chair. In this case, Malta Supervisor Paul Sausville was elected to that post. The vice-chairman is the second most senior supervisor who also has the most time served as a member of the seven-person law and finance committee. I was appointed to that committee three years ago.
What are some of the major areas that the Law and Finance committee has primary responsibility for?
MV: The county budget itself is passed at the end of the previous year. Law and Finance renders an advisory opinion on any budget amendment after that, and can modify an amount it recommends if it feels an adjustment is called for. This committee is responsible for all rules and regulations, oversight of the county sewer district and outside standing agencies. We also oversee donations to not-for-profit agencies as they occur, and as needed screen and interview candidates for personnel vacancies for department head level and above (non-civil service positions.)
In your new role, you have primary responsibility for the preparation of the 2015 budget. When does the process begin, and how does the timetable to passage play out?
MV: We begin in July, with a survey of all department heads for their requests, and work on this into October. We generally release the preliminary budget in late October, shortly before Election Day. While I intend to keep an eye on and be involved in each request, I also will rely on County Administrator Spencer Hellwig and Management Analyst Ryan Moore for their expertise. In November, law and finance holds a meeting to take any recommended adjustments to personnel by the county’s Personnel Director, and other special changes as needed. In early December, the Board of Supervisors holds a budget workshop and we adopt our budget at the Board’s last meeting of the year.
Looking ahead to the 2015 budget, what would you like to see accomplished?
MV: First of all, I have to give credit to my predecessors. We had some rough budget years in the past, but the measures that they have taken, including the sale of Maplewood Manor, the county landfill and the setting up for a new strategic economic plan, has put us in great shape going forward. Assuming the economy stays the way it is, we should have some extra revenue to develop in ways that will be beneficial and visible to all county residents.
The first thing I hope will happen is for us to refund our open space activities, which had to be defunded during lean times. I don’t expect to fund it to the previous high level it once was, but reestablish it. Second, I hope to develop a new county trail grant program, in which all towns could competitively submit projects for the county’s support.
I’d also like to see support for a county wide green initiative, in conjunction with our buildings and grounds committee. This takes many forms- from looking at ways to save on energy by removing some of the excess florescent lighting in county buildings, putting high-efficiency LED lighting in our parking lots. We should look at the feasibility of establishing a solar park somewhere on county land. It would be great if we could take the county buildings off the grid, perhaps return some surplus. It would be an investment and a long-term project, but I’ve never been against spending money if there’s a strong potential for a payback to us.
The biggest goal I would like to shoot for, given a good budget year for 2015, is to not increase taxes, which was necessary the past three years. I’m hopeful and optimistic.
How will you involve your colleagues, either from rural towns unlike Saratoga Springs, or from the other party?
MV: I’ve always been of the belief that a good idea doesn’t come from one side or another. Show me a good idea, and I’ll back it.
You just had your first agenda meeting. How did it go?
MV: We were out in six minutes. I got a lot of compliments about that!
Malta Releases Tentative Budget
Saratoga Springs City Council: Budget and Beyond
SARATOGA SPRINGS – At the council meeting on Tuesday, October 1, the proposed 2014 comprehensive budget was detailed by Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan.
The keywords comprehensive and detailed also described Madigan’s presentation message to the council and the packed chamber. The philosophical underpinnings behind the choices made (such as “a safe city is an economically viable city,” and “…decreasing the amount of fund balance used in the operating budget is an important step towards a sustainable government”) were explained before she itemized how she would effectuate those broad goals.
The bottom line for the taxpayer is this: a 0.68 percent increase in the property tax rate for 2014, or a $4.11 increase for a homeowner with an assessed value of $100,000.
The PowerPoint budget presentation is available on the finance department page on the city’s website. Visit www.saratoga-springs.org to access this. The first public hearing on the 2014 comprehensive budget is scheduled for Tuesday, October 15 at 6:45 p.m. Also, a number of budget workshops have been scheduled that will review the 2014 budget by department:
· Tuesday, October 8 at 1 p.m. – Mayor and Recreation Department
· Thursday, October 10 at 6 p.m. – Department of Public Works and Capital Budget
· Thursday, October 17 at noon- Finance and Accounts Departments
· Wednesday, October 23 at 5:30 p.m. – Department of Public Safety
· Tuesday, October 29 at 6:30 p.m. and Thursday, October 31 at 1 p.m. – General review
The rumor that costumes will be optional at the last workshop could not be confirmed at press time. In any event, the entire council has until November 30 to pass or submit modifications to this comprehensive budget. By city charter, should the council not act by that time, the budget submitted by Madigan becomes the operating budget for 2014.
In other council news:
Roll call votes unanimously passed two amendments to the 2013 Capital Budget. The first adopted the Safe Routes to School provision, which is eligible for complete reimbursement by NYS DOT and the second adopted a water treatment plant emergency generator to satisfy a state mandate.
Mayor Scott Johnson led a discussion and vote which serves to advance the adoption of the master plan and Phase I development for the Waterfront Park project. A public hearing on this has been set for 6:50 p.m. on October 15, prior to the next council meeting.
Accounts Commissioner John Franck sponsored a motion to merit for review to the city and county planning boards the proposed Beekman Street Art District zoning and map modifications. After some discussion as to how the filing fees (about $4,700) could be waived, city attorney Matt Dorsey clarified the matter and the motion passed unanimously.Franck also announced that the voting districts that had been at the Lincoln Baths at Spa State Park would be moving back to the Saratoga Springs City Center for the next election on November 5.
Mayor Johnson, on Public Safety Commissioner Mathiesen’s behalf, announced that a public safety forum on late night noise and other public safety issues will take place on Thursday, October 24 at 7 p.m. in the city council room
County Supervisor Matthew Veitch announced that the Saratoga County Office for the Aging will have a public hearing on Wednesday, November 13 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Saratoga Springs Public Library. He also reviewed his experience from attending the recent New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) conference, and noting that the county had received $13 million in capital requests, of which $11 million were adopted. The county pays for these capital projects out of the general fund, unlike the City of Saratoga Springs, so there was no bonding costs associated with them.
Saratoga Bridges Stuck in Limbo as It Awaits Its Financial Fate
SARATOGA SPRINGS — With a state budget that cuts $90 million from programs that benefit people with developmental disabilities, and no word from the state on how that cut will affect them, Saratoga Bridges is trapped in a limbo as they hold onto open positions and delay recruiting for mid-management jobs they were planning on adding this year.
School Budget Voting Results
SARATOGA COUNTY — In the Saratoga Springs City School District, the 2013-14 budget was approved by a vote of 1,839 to 458 on May 21 - a better than four-to-one margin.