SARANAC LAKE - The slogan on many of his campaign signs reads "Tax Cut Tom," but Harrietstown supervisor candidate Tom Catillaz, during his long tenure as a village mayor and trustee, has never once been on a board that cut taxes.
In fact, the village tax levy increased in 11 of the 13 budgets Catillaz participated in crafting as a village elected official. The only two years when Catillaz was in office that the tax levy didn't increase were in 1996 and 2001, when it was flat.
Asked if it was misleading to call himself "Tax Cut Tom," a moniker Catillaz says he came up with by himself, when he's never been on a board that's actually cut taxes, Catillaz said, "No, I don't think so.
Signs asking voters to choose Bob Bevilacqua and Tom Catillaz for Harrietstown town supervisor are seen Friday in Berkeley Green in downtown Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"Every year prices go up on everything," he told the Enterprise Friday. "The cost of living - what'd that go up last year? I think it was 3.4 (it was actually 3.2 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics). If we can live with a 2 percent increase, that's a cut."
"But isn't 2 percent an increase, not a cut?" the Enterprise asked.
"Yes it is," Catillaz acknowledged. "But you can't go - well, you can go below zero, but you'd have to cut services. We're trying to keep taxes at an absolute minimum and still provide services."
Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who's been supporting Catillaz's campaign against Harrietstown Councilman Bob Bevilacqua, said the "Tax Cut Tom" signs were actually supposed to read "Tax Cap Tom." He said there was a misspelling when the campaign ordered the signs from a printing company, but Catillaz's supporters decided to put them up until they got a shipment of the correct "Tax Cap Tom" signs, which are now being placed around town.
"As we get more of the 'Tax Caps' out, we'll get rid of all of the 'Tax Cut' (signs)," Rabideau said.
Catillaz never mentioned anything about a printing mix-up when the Enterprise asked him about his signs; he defended the "Tax Cut" nickname.
Whatever the explanation, the question of each candidate's past history on taxes has emerged as a big one in the campaign. Bevilacqua, a Republican, and Catillaz, a Democrat, are vying for a one-year seat as town supervisor, a now-vacant position held by Republican Larry Miller until he stepped down earlier this year.
Former village Trustee Jeff Branch, in a letter to the editor published in the Enterprise earlier this week, drew attention to the tax levy increases during Catillaz's tenure as mayor. Branch, a Republican, didn't endorse or even mention Bevilacqua in the letter, but he wrote, "Before anyone votes for Mr. Catillaz to lessen our tax burden, check Mr. Catillaz's record carefully and be cautious, as history tends to repeat itself."
Specifically, the village tax levy increased as follows during Catillaz's mayoral tenure:
1999-2000: 2 percent
2000-01: 3.72 percent
2001-02: 0 percent
2002-03: 5.06 percent
2003-04: 12.87 percent
2004-05: 12.10 percent
2005-06: 2.99 percent.
Branch's letter also attributed the 7.25 percent tax levy increase in the 2006-07 budget to Catillaz, but Catillaz actually had left office a month before that budget was adopted. It's also worth noting that Branch was on the board for several of the same years that Catillaz was mayor.
Before becoming mayor, Catillaz was a trustee for three years from 1996 to 1999, when the village tax levy went up zero, 2.87 and 5.99 percent, respectively. In the three years since Catillaz has rejoined the board as a trustee, from 2010 to this year, the village tax levy increases have been 2.82, 2.04 and 1.99 percent.
Catillaz said some of the bigger levy hikes during his political career were due to unforeseen expenses like infrastructure work on Church Street, Broadway and Blooomingdale Avenue, and a mid-year, 28 percent increase in the village's share of state retirement costs.
If he's elected as Harrietstown supervisor, Catillaz said he'd work to keep the town's tax levy increase at or below the state's mandated 2 percent cap.
"We can't keep having 10 percent increases every year," he said. "You can't do it. People's income is not being raised, certainly not at the same rate taxes are."
The mention of 10 percent increases was clearly a reference to the tax levy hikes in the town of Harrietstown budget over the last few years, something the Democrats have been hitting on repeatedly in press releases, letters to the editor and on the "Friends of Tom Catillaz" Facebook page.
Bevilacqua took office as a town councilman in January 2008. He was re-elected to another four-year term in November. The tax levy increases from all funds for the budgets he's worked on have been as follows:
2009: minus 2.2 percent
2010: 13 percent
2011: 4.3 percent
2012: 9.1 percent.
Town officials have said fluctuations in fuel sales at the town-owned Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear were to blame for the big levy increases in the 2010 and 2012 budgets.
"Nobody wants to increase taxes, and we try to keep them as low as we can," Bevilacqua said Friday. "We had a bad year at the airport last year. Things are looking better this year. We hope to be able keep taxes as low as possible. We're shooting for keeping it below the 2 percent."
Bevilacqua also noted that the town doesn't have much debt.
"I think we've been pretty good about minding people's money," he said. "We're trying to do the best for the taxpayers."
"There's big differences in the overall indebtedness between the town and the village, where planning and caution and fiscal responsibility shows in that," added Harrietstown Republican Ray Scollin, who's supporting Bevilacqua's campaign. "When you're dealing with $18 million in indebtedness for the village and roughly $175,000 in indebtedness for the town, we're comfortable with the fiscal responsibility the town has had. We think people need to take a look at the entire financial picture."
While the Catillaz camp has been issuing press releases and posting statements on its Facebook page touting its candidates ideas and stances on issues over the last few weeks, the Bevilacqua campaign hasn't been making as much noise. Scollin and Bevilacqua said they're starting to ramp things up, though. There's now a "Friends of Bob Bevilacqua" Facebook site, and the campaign held what Bevilacqua said was a well-attended fundraiser at McKenzie's Grill earlier this week. Scollin also said he'll begin sending out a series of releases highlighting Bevilacqua's platform next week.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.