SARANAC LAKE - The property tax levy would increase 3.7 percent under the tentative village budget for 2011-12.
Filed on Friday by village Manager John Sweeney and Treasurer Paul Ellis, the budget includes just over $4.8 million in general fund spending, an increase of nearly 7 percent, or $314,000, over the current budget.
The amount of the budget to be raised by taxes would increase 3.7 percent, from the current year's levy of $3.2 million to $3.4 million in 2011-12.
"I would say this budget is very lean," Ellis said Tuesday. "The department heads are in the mindset that these are tough times. There isn't a lot of fluff in their budgets."
In a written budget message to the village Board of Trustees, Sweeney said the budget anticipates higher prices for energy and fuel, as well as employee benefits. Health insurance costs are expected to increase 8 percent. Pension contributions would increase 24 percent for village police and 39 percent for other village workers.
"The basics are still going up," Sweeney told the Enterprise Tuesday. "Employee costs, fuel costs, insurance costs, retirement costs - and that's not even talking about the cost of materials for doing stuff."
Another factor that Sweeney said influenced the budget is an overall decrease in the total assessed value of property in the Harrietstown section of the village, from $228 million last year to $207 million. However, Harrietstown is now at 100 percent of value, courtesy of a townwide property reassessment, which means tax rates for residents in that section of the village would decrease 5.9 percent, from $11.62 to $10.92 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Meanwhile, tax rates in the North Elba and St. Armand sections of the village would increase by 9.38 percent, from $9.99 to $10.92 per $1,000.
The budget does not include an increase in pay for village workers who are members of Service Employees International Union Local 200. Sweeney said a new contract is still being negotiated with that union. However, the budget does include a 3.25 percent pay increase for village police, per their most recent union contract.
The budget's general fund includes funding for all five village fire driver positions, although Sweeney said that could change as the board reviews the budget. Head Fire Driver Kent Robinson will retire later this month, and the board has been debating whether or not to fill the position.
Among expenditures in the coming year, the village is planning to purchase a used aerial platform truck for the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department to replace the department's snorkel truck, which is more than 40 years old. Sweeney said the village has a lead on a refurbished truck in Pennsylvania that would cost $145,000. The village would pay for it using $65,000 from a fire equipment reserve fund and by borrowing another $80,000. The fire department has been asking for such a truck for more than 10 years.
The village is also planning a $1 million "Rebuild Saranac Lake" public improvement bond for sidewalk replacement throughout the village. The first debt service payments for that bond, as well as for the fire truck, wouldn't be due until the 2012-13 fiscal year.
Sweeney said no funding has been included in the tentative budget for leasing the Sears parking lot from Paolo Magro, who's under contract to purchase the Sears building and has been trying to work out a deal with the village.
Water rates would increase a whopping 21 percent under the proposed budget.
Ellis said much of the increase is due to $265,000 in renovations to the water plant building, which is part of the village's $10 million water project.
"Instead of adding the big water project to the budget and letting that amount grow and grow, and having to pay it off over so many years, what I've done is try to pull some of those infrastructure projects out of the water project and do them in-house to lessen the blow of what we might have to pay down the road," Ellis said.
The village is also moving $110,000 from water reserves to the general fund to offset police costs of monitoring and responding to water-related issues.
Sewer rates would increase roughly 3 percent, which Sweeney said is due to the increased energy and personnel costs mentioned earlier.
Some civic groups and organizations would see their funding stripped or reduced in the tentative budget, while others would get the same amount they got last year.
The Saranac Lake Adult Center, which received $5,000 from the village last year, would get no funding from the village in 2011-12. Funding has also been eliminated for the Robert Louis Stevenson Society and the Saranac Lake Civic Center. The Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce would see its village funding cut from $15,000 to $10,000.
Meanwhile, the Saranac Lake Youth Center and the Saranac Lake Area Youth Program would each get $7,500 from the village, the same amount they saw last year.
Sweeney said the village has decided to support youth-related civic organizations, but other groups that are "self-funded, or have the ability to self-fund, were hit." Letters were sent notifying the various groups of the changes in November.
"The board will focus its resources on providing essential village services," the letter reads.
The village board held a brief meeting last night where it scheduled a public hearing on the budget and a series of budget meetings to follow. The public hearing will be held at 5 p.m. on Monday in the village offices, prior to the board's next meeting.
Trustee John McEneany said he'd like to see the proposed tax levy increase reduced to zero.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com.