Village budget passed: Traveling a tough road to stay lean but efficient

At its April 1 meeting, the Altamont Board of Trustees approved the 2014-15 village budget.  The budget does not increase village taxes, following a pattern of the last several years, so property tax rate is well within the tax cap enacted by state government.

The plan is to raise $281,856 by assessing properties at 2.7940/thousand.  After several meetings and close and careful examination of the village’s financial reserves, the board also directed staff to update the capital replacement plans. The plans comprise a 25-year period describing vehicle replacement plans for the senior van, police, department of public works, and volunteer fire department vehicles.

The board voted to increase general staff and elected officials’ salaries by 3 percent. In recent years, no cost-of-living increases were given or the board authorized less of an increase.

The village board met in public session twice in March to discuss department budget proposals and village economic issues.

Economic factors that affected the deliberations included:  a small increase in county tax funds, a decrease in health-insurance premiums, an increase in general village insurance premiums, reduced revenue resulting from very low CD interest rates, the increased debt incurred because of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation requirement to build a new sewer processing plant, additional staffing attention to the DEC requirements because of being identified as an MS-4 site, savings resulting from new staff hires at lower salary rates, and cost cutting by the superintendent of public works.

The board concluded its deliberations at the April 1 meeting.  The following are selected significant actions the board approved:

— No increase in property taxes;

— A 3-percent increase in cost-of-living adjustments for staff;

— A $2,500 for grant-writing services to address the needs of the fire department; and

— Per-meeting stipends for zoning and planning board members ($40 per meeting for the chairs of both committees, and $20 per meeting for board members of both committees).

Budget decisions did not come easy.  Altamont, like other communities, struggles to maintain essential services in a difficult economy.  Energy costs have risen astronomically and the village’s usual sources of revenue are not as dependable as they used to be.

We have just completed an energy audit and will be implementing cost-saving measures as a result.  We hope mortgage tax receipts will rise again now that the housing market is beginning to come back to its pre-2008 state.

Although we still suffer from no population increase in relation to the county as a whole, we are hopeful that we will realize more sales-tax revenue because of the continued improvement in the economy’s health.  

County senior meals and transportation reimbursements have been reduced, but we are still committed to maintaining a strong senior program in Altamont regardless.

Our governor is attempting to address state spending that he believes has gotten out of control.  He wants to correct financial structural problems, while not creating new taxes.

The new state budget does incorporate new measures to cap property taxes while requiring municipalities to come up with cost-saving consolidations, or sharing of resources.  We have kept within the tax cap for all the years since the law was enacted, and have instituted cost-savings measures already.

The devil is in the details, so we’ll be looking at that carefully as guidelines come out from the governor’s offices.   While we cannot generalize statewide as the governor does, we are acutely aware of Altamont’s fiscal reality.

Many of our residents are having a difficult time making ends meet.  The board of trustees crafted a lean budget that will not unfairly burden them while seeking fiscal solutions other than just raising village taxes.

The fact is Altamont has a limited and stable tax base, which is not growing, so we face an unusually tough road to stay lean but efficient.  As I have mentioned before, the village has to tax homeowners at a rate 30 times more than the town to raise the same amount of funds.

Because of their vigilance, the trustees have been able to cut costs and maintain services, without raising taxes, and with little outside help.   The board is committed to monitor the village finances throughout the year to ensure your tax dollars are spent wisely.

If you want to read this or past Mayor’s Notes, you can find them on the village website: http://altamontvillage.org/.  You also may call me at village office at 861-8554, ext. 10, or e-mail me at altamontmayor@aol.com

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