UPDATE: Allegany County, NY, taxpayers appear to have lost the opportunity for a sizable tax cut today after county lawmakers spent some 15 minutes discussing, and then passing over, use of a small portion of its large fund balance to lower property taxes for all towns in the county next year and otherwise ignored use of additional surplus for a major tax decrease for all.
Meeting as a Committee of the Whole, the Board of Legislators approved three revenue-neutral changes to its $29.7 million tentative budget, which has resulted from grant awards, and dropped $22,930 in expenditures in the Workers’ Compensation and employment and training accounts, resulting in a negligible decrease in the proposed property tax rate.
The tentative budget, with today’s amendments emanating from corrections, is scheduled to be voted upon by the Board at its regular session next Wednesday.
Property taxes going up in 10 towns
Near the start of today’s meeting, Legislator John Ricci of Cuba said he had received a communication from a constituent, apparently commenting on an exclusive Allegany Hope story from three weeks ago, which detailed that 10 out of 29 towns in the county would experience tax increases next year, despite the tax rate decreasing by a county-wide average of 44-cents per $1,000 of assessment.
Ricci noted that our chart shows tax increases in four out of eight towns in legislative District 1, including Belfast at 9.51 percent, Centerville at 5.38, Hume 0.19, and Rushford 2.53 percent, in the northeastern part of the county, and Cuba at 3.96 percent and Friendship at three percent, or two out of six towns in his District 2.
Other increases in county towns were 032 percent in Alfred, 3.78 in Andover, 7.16 in Bolivar, and 3.15 percent in Willing.
The lawmaker said that although it is a “great budget” which “you can’t squawk about,” the tax increases in his district would have a negative impact on some half of its taxpayers.
He asked how much would need to be applied from county surplus to enable all property taxpayers to see no tax increase.
County Administrator Carissa Knapp, who also is the county budget officer, and Treasurer Terri Ross said they didn’t have enough information immediately to provide that determination.
No reward for “bad behavior” by towns
Several county lawmakers then pushed back against the idea of reducing the tax levy.
Legislator Dwight Fanton of Wellsville said it all is based on equalization rates and those with lower percentages end up paying more, expressing the opinion that it is each town’s responsibility to keep their rate current.
“Every year we have this,” said Legislator Debra Root of Scio, saying she didn’t know how to make everyone whole every year.
Legislator Steve Havey of Wellsville said that although his residents were going to have to pay more because of the town’s equalization rate, he didn’t want to start something and be “morally obligated to do this next year.”
According to calculations by Allegany Hope Community News, Wellsville’s tax rate, despite the equalization rate decreasing three percent, actually will have a 3.53 percent tax decrease in county taxes next year.
Legislator Philip Curran of Alfred Station said he feels that trying to adjust the tax rate for the 10 towns is “kind of like rewarding bad behavior.”
Legislator Brooke Harris of Alfred, who was chairing the meeting, said there appeared to be a lack of interest on the part of Board members present in making any change and moved to another subject.
County continues high taxes distinction
Under the minimally-amended budget, it is anticipated the county will continue its distinction of having the second highest property and third highest sales tax rates in the state, despite maintaining a high surplus which is expected to equal at the end of this year more than next year’s property tax levy, before applying some 10 percent toward 2023 expenditures.
The chart accompanying this story, which happened to be shown later in the meeting by Ross while explaining a new software package, demonstrates how the county’s surplus — in orange — has been maintained for at least the past five years at a level of some $30 million.
As we have reported in recent weeks, the county has generated millions of dollars in revenues in excess of expenses which allows county lawmakers to publicize a small property tax decrease each year while keeping a high fund balance, or surplus.
County legislators keep millions
Last year, Ross said the county had some $11 million available “to play with,” after considering funds needed for cash flow to pay its bills.
At that time, instead of reducing property taxes by more than one-third, the Board of Legislators moved $7.5 million into a “committed” fund for economic development, despite having no stated plan at the time, or currently, for its use.
Revenues during last year then exceeded expenses by some $6.5 million, moving the fund balance back up to more than $30 million dollars again, as is shown on the county’s graphic.
No specific information has been provided, but it would appear from the data that the county still has more than $10 million “to play with,” this year which it will keep rather than providing a significant property tax reduction.
The Livestream of this morning’s Committee of the Whole meeting is available at http://bit.ly/3TMeYIO, with discussion about the equalization rates starting at approximately 5:25 minutes.
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