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Sullilvan legislature passes tax cap override; sustainable energy project in doubt

By Fritz Mayer
September 19, 2012

The Sullivan County Legislature voted on September 20 to approve an override of the 2% property tax increase imposed by Albany. The vote was six to three, a supermajority of the legislature, which is necessary for the override to go forward.

Legislators Cindy Geiger, Alan Sorensen and Kitty Vetter voted against the override because they wanted first to try to close the projected $13 million budget gap with cuts in spending.
The vote does not necessarily mean the legislature will exceed the 2% figure but given the state of the budget a relative large increase seems unavoidable.

The lawmakers received an update on the budget on September 13 from deputy county manager Josh Potosek, and the outlook is only marginally better than the gloomy forecasts that have been coming for the past four years.

The 2% cap would allow the legislature to raise only an additional $997,557 in property tax revenue next year. But the county’s expenses, much of them incurred because of state-mandated programs and spending, are well beyond that figure.

With increases in such things as pension contributions and
health insurance premiums, the projected increase in county costs next year is about $5.85 million, or more than five times as much as the cap would allow.

There was some good news in the figures: the sales tax for the county is a bit ahead of last year, and county officials are projecting an increase of about $660,000. But even with that factored in, it seems very unlikely the county will be able to balance the budget for 2013 without a significant tax increase.

Potesek explained what a 10% tax increase would mean to taxpayers. For a typical homeowner, about 50% of the total tax bill goes to the school district, about 25% goes to town and village taxes and about 20% goes to the county. If the school district, town and village don’t raise their taxes, a 10% increase in county taxes would be about $100 of additional tax on a house assessed at $100,000. Potosek said the figure could vary greatly from town to town.

Sustainable retrofit project in doubt

Against that backdrop, Stephen Stuart, technical adviser for Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development (SASD), asked the legislature to approve spending between $15,000 and $25,000 for a feasibility study of performing a “deep energy retrofit” for the Robert Travis Building in Liberty, which houses the Department of Family Services. He said the building was the worst county-owned building in terms of disrepair, and a retrofit could bring substantial energy savings.