LAKE PLACID - The tax levy increase in next year's village budget is double what village officials projected last month, but it's still within the state's property tax cap.
At a special meeting Thursday morning, the village Board of Trustees adopted the 2012-13 budget. It includes a tax levy of $3.4 million, which represents an increase of 3.27 percent, or $109,000, over the current levy. When the tentative budget was presented last month, the tax levy increase stood at 1.68 percent.
Nevertheless, Mayor Craig Randall said the 3.27 percent is "consistent" with the state's property tax cap. Although it's been generally referred to as a 2-percent cap, the state's formula allows exemptions for certain expenses, like a portion of a municipality's pension costs, which can be added onto its levy.
Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall
"We're allowed slightly over 2 percent, in our case, with the state," Randall said. "Plus the additional monies exceeding the 2 percent increase were retirement, and that's roughly $35,000 added to that. We are in compliance with the tax cap, and that formula allows us to put in certain pieces."
The budget's general fund contains $5,452,685 in spending, an increase of 0.86 percent, or $46,497, over the current year.
The tax rate per $1,000 of assessed property value will increase from $5.43 in the current fiscal year to $5.74. That means the tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home will rise from $1,086 to $1,148.
At the outset of the meeting, Randall outlined a list of additions to the budget that led to the higher levy. The changes were the result of conversations with village department heads and board members, the mayor said.
The list includes a $15,000 increase in the village contingency account, bringing it to a total of $55,000. Randall said that account was increased because the village has several union contracts being negotiated.
"We do not know the ultimate outcomes of those negotiations; therefore it's appropriate to leave some money available," he said.
Village officials also budgeted another $27,000 more in fuel and energy costs, in the event fuel prices rise, and put back $10,000 in the budget for a grant writer.
"We are currently embarking upon three significant grants in the village, and although we're trying to do that using our own resources, it's only prudent to put some money in the budget in the event we have to go outside," Randall said.
Another $17,774 was added to the budget. That represents the village's share of a joint fuel station used by the village, the town of North Elba and the Lake Placid Central School District. The expense had mistakenly been omitted from the initial version of the budget.
The village had hoped to add a full-time position in its accounting department but left it out of the budget because it would have pushed the tax levy above the state's cap, Randall said. He said the village could look for someone to fill the position on a part-time basis, although he said that's contingent on the outcome of union negotiations.
"Every time we add a position, we automatically have to add a significant amount of money for all the related payroll costs, retirement and, quite often, health insurance," Randall said. "That's the part that's making this difficult. It's not the hourly wage."
Former village police chief Scott Monroe, one of three people in the audience, noted that there was funding in the current budget for the accounting position. He asked why that unspent money wouldn't just be allocated for the same purpose next year, instead of being added to the village's roughly $2 million fund balance.
"You're building fund balance up and you're not giving it back to the taxpayers that paid it," Monroe said. "Like that position. I don't know what was put in the budget for it. I think it was like $48,000. That's $48,000 that you raised our taxes to put in there, and now we're not getting anything for it. It seems like the money should come back to us."
"I don't believe we ever put money in and said, 'We were going to,'" said Trustee Art Devlin. "We said we put money in there 'in case' we had one. In this case it didn't happen all year. Just like we have now, we put money in for a part-time (position). It may not happen all year, but we put it there in case it does happen."
The vote to approve the general fund budget was unanimous.
Later, the board also approved the electric, water and sewer budgets for the next fiscal year. There are no significant rate increases for any of the three utilities.
Village Treasurer Peggy Mousaw said village residents can pay their electric, water and sewer bills online with credit cards, although there is a fee, by visiting the website listed on the bottom of their bills, www.municipalonlinepayments.com/lakeplacidNY. She also said the village will start automatic bank withdrawals for payment of all three utilities in the coming months.