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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 24, 2009
Super says $30M plan won’t raise taxes
By Anne Hayden
GUILDERLAND Democratic Supervisor Kenneth Runion has drafted a $30 million tentative budget for next year that he says won’t raise taxes.
The rate would still be 26 cents per $1,000; the rate went up one cent per $1,000 in 2009, for the first time in over a decade, he said.
The Republicans aren’t convinced. Councilman Warren Redlich and Peter Golden, who is challenging Runion on the GOP line, have raised concerns.
“We know we’ve had a sales tax shortage, but there is a dispute about how much,” Redlich said.
Albany County distributes sales tax revenues to municipalities based on population, which has paid for the majority of Guilderland’s budget.
The sales tax revenue figures are actually better than expected, said Runion.
“We’ve seen a gradual improvement in each quarter after December,” he said.
Golden said he would have to look at the numbers, but thought the sales tax revenue was worse than expected, according to reports from Albany County.
A release from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said that sales tax revenues in New York State had dropped by 9-percent for the first seven months of 2009, compared with the same period last year.
“Just like the state, if local governments are not on track to meet their budgeted revenues for the year, they need to make adjustments in their spending now without a greater burden on local taxpayers,” said DiNapoli’s release.
Four counties did experience sales tax revenue growth, the release said, but Albany County was not among them.
Guilderland’s budget will be based off of the sales tax revenue number from 2007, instead of 2008, because the number in 2008 was far above average, according to Runion; the town actually received nearly $500,000 more than it had expected in 2008, he said. The 2010 budget will be based on an anticipated sales tax revenue of $10,025,000, said the supervisor. The 9-percent decrease in revenues reported by the state comptroller are the result of comparisons to the 2008 revenues, Runion said.
“In the last quarter, our figure was ahead of what the revenues were in 2007,” said Runion.
“The ‘rainy day fund’ is in good shape, and was actually up about $500,000 as of Dec. 31, 2008. The reserves fund is also in good shape we have a good cash balance between the two,” said Runion.
One thing that has served to boost the budget in 2009 is the increased assessed valuation from new construction and renovation Runion cited the new CM Fox Real Estate Building on Western Avenue as an example.
Property assessment in Guilderland went up $23 million for last year, according to John Macejka, Guilderland’s assessor.
“We had quite a bit of construction, not necessarily new,” he said in August. This included commercial construction as well as homeowners’ adding swimming pools or seasonal rooms, all of which add value.
New buildings added to the tax rolls included the Woodsfield subdivision off Lydius Street, Troy Miller’s building center on Western Avenue, the SEFCU bank in Altamont, and Jeff Thomas’s Brandle Meadows outside of Altamont, he said.
One important aspect of Golden’s platform, he said, is the idea that actively seeking out new businesses to move to Guilderland would significantly increase the tax base, and decrease tax rates. He would like to see businesses not only construct new buildings, but take over and renovate buildings that stand empty along Western Avenue and Carman Road.
The supervisor indicated that the budget will be much the same as the budget for 2009, at least in terms of total amount. Some funds have been shifted among line items, he said, but nothing that would affect the overall budget.
The drafted budget indicates that some departments will be losing part of their funding, while other departments gain some. In the department of programs for the aged, senior events will lose 25 percent of its funding, from $35,000 in 2009 to $25,000 in 2010. Overall, the department for the aged funds will decrease by 15 percent.
The transfer station will received extra funding, to cover things like recycling costs, which will go up 33 percent, from $15,000 to $20,000.
In February, Runion announced that the town was cutting overtime for the court clerks, as well as for the police department and emergency services. Those cuts have saved the town money, and will continue throughout 2010, said Runion.
The drafted budget reflects a 64-percent decrease in overtime costs in the department of town justices from $18,163 in 2009, to a recommended $6,500 in 2010.
Golden said he disagreed with Runion’s decision to cut overtime, potentially affecting the coverage the police and emergency medical services departments provide.
“I feel very strongly about not trying to make a budget by cutting essential services,” said Golden. He said, according to what he has seen, the money saved by cutting EMS overtime was insignificant, and the cuts were dangerously affecting the coverage ability of the service.
The 2010 tentative budget shows a decrease in cost of 2-percent in civilian paramedic services from $697,517 to $686,233. In the police department, the budget shows overtime decreases of 18 percent for investigators, 9 percent for sergeants, and 50-percent clerical decreases.
If he were elected supervisor, Golden said, he would take advantage of the Division of Criminal Justice Services, which provides a staffing study of police departments free of charge.
“We could get an objective view on what the needs really are. I think most people are generally very pleased with the police department, and understandably so,” Golden said.
Runion also announced last February that he was going to be putting a tighter control on department spending, particularly for supplies. Supply requests from all town departments had to go through his office for approval. Runion said he would continue to monitor spending in 2010.
Some departments, according to the tentative budget, will have a significantly decreased supply fund in the coming year. The supply fund for the central garage department will go down 58 percent, and the police department youth services supply fund will decrease by 29 percent.
All union contracts call for a 3-percent raise in 2010, said Runion, and all non-union town employees have a 3-percent raise built into the budget. The supervisor said that, assuming he was still in office in 2010, he would not take his pay raise, which would amount to $3,000; his salary will increase from $100,947 to $103,975 if the budget is approved.
Instead, Runion said, he would donate the money back to services for which the town was not able to provide extra funds for in the budget, including the animal shelter, Guilderland Performing Arts, Community Caregivers, Veterans Organizations, and the Altamont Library.
Golden’s opinion is that Runion is only offering to donate his money because it’s an election year.
“Mr. Runion has basically doubled his salary over the past decade. Now that he’s been called out on it by an opponent, he’s finally doing something,” said Golden.
If elected, Golden said, he would like to see the supervisor’s salary reduced to what it would be if it had followed the trend of inflation. He noted that he did not believe the same sort of reduction would or should apply to other town employees.
“I believe that, to some degree, the supervisor position is a public service. I do not look at it as a job opportunity,” Golden said. The supervisor is the elected embodiment of the community, and taking a reduced salary would send an important message to residents, said Golden. He said, if he were supervisor, he’d be happy to have his salary frozen at its starting point, for his entire term.
In 2008, when the budget for 2009 was being drafted, Redlich proposed that the salaries of town board members be cut by 5 percent, and appointed officials salaries be frozen for the coming year. Runion opposed both ideas.
“Donating the money from a raise is a half-effort,” said Redlich yesterday. “We shouldn’t be giving ourselves raises at all. We’ve got to lead from the top.” Redlich said he would still support a 5-percent decrease in salary across the board. The tentative budget, if approved, would raise town board members’ salaries from $21,771 to $22,053, each.
According to Runion, it is the 2011 budget that could be a cause for concern, because DiNapoli has indicated that there might be a significant increase in contributions to retirement funds. Runion said that would not affect the 2010 budget because the retirement funds were already received for the year.
“You can’t blame Runion for the pension problems, but the problem will be the supervisor’s,” said Golden, who said that to ignore the rising pension costs in the 2010 budget would be unwise. He said it is important to look ahead and anticipate the coming storm, and not do so would be deceptive.
Both Golden and Redlich said they are curious to see the exact numbers on the tentative budget, and hope to see those numbers by Sept. 28.