Schoharie County $ worse than expected


By Jim Poole

The tax rate in the proposed 2009 Schoharie County budget is rising just 3.2 percent, but taxpayers are likely to be facing an actual increase that’s much higher.
County Treasurer Bill Cherry said this week that recently-released state equalization rates would push the tax increase as high as 23 percent in some towns.
Made public Tuesday, the tentative budget calls for spending $62.6 million next year, an increase of $3.5 million over 2008. The levy––the amount to be raised by taxes––would rise about $1.8 million.
Mr. Cherry several weeks ago estimated that the tax rate would rise about eight percent. That was before the state equalization rates were figured in.
In many towns, Mr. Cherry said, “the state is saying that your homes significantly increased in value between 2007 and 2008.”
The lower equalization rates in most towns means although the tax-rate increase is relatively small, taxpayers will pay more because the state has their homes––on paper, at least––at a higher value.
“I don’t believe it,” Mr. Cherry said. “There’s well-documented stagnation or even deflation in real estate values across the nation.
Property owners in Carlisle, Sharon and Seward would see the biggest increase, about 23.8 percent, according to Mr. Cherry’s figures.
“There’s nothing I can do to change that,” he said. “The equalization rate is a state-imposed property re-evaluation. That’s exactly the effect it has.”
Only Richmondville, which recently had a re-evaluation, will see its rate drop, by bout 5.7 percent. In other towns, increases range from 2.2 percent in Gilboa to 17 percent in Blenheim before the sharper hikes in Seward, Sharon and Carlisle.
Though equalization rates often affect tax rates, the change is usually slight.
“I haven’t seen this, in my memory,” Mr. Cherry said. “It’s never been this dramatic.”
But even if the equalization rates hadn’t affected the tax rates, taxpayers would still need to fund the levy increase of $1.8 million, Mr. Cherry said.
“The problem is all in the revenue stream,” he said. “Sales tax revenue is flat, the property values are flat. Despite what the state says, there’s no true growth in the tax base.”
The spending increase comes mostly because of salary contracts, health insurance and fuel, he said.
Mr. Cherry is countering some of that increase by applying $975,000 from the county’s gas tax reserve to it.
He’s also included no new positions or position upgrades in the tentative budget and has a plan for the county to buy electricity in bulk to cut costs.
Not included in the tentative budget is $140,500 requested by the Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee for promotion.
“Is $140,000 the end of civilization as we know it? No,” Mr. Cherry said. “But we have to look beyond next year. I see much more painful cuts to come, and we don’t want to compound it now.”
He’s trying to cut as much as possible or avoid new spending wherever possible.
“Taxpayers are not a bottomless well,” he said. “They’re suffering the same economic conditions as we are.”
Concerned about the overall economy, Mr. Cherry said the 2009 tentative budget was a “hold-the-line” document.
If the economy worsens, future budgets could eliminate vacant positions and reduce funding for non-government agencies, he said.
“Looking three to five years ahead, I believe we’re in for trouble,” Mr. Cherry said.