County tax increase looks to be within cap


By Jim Poole

Taxpayers aren't likely to get sticker shock from Schoharie County's 2014 budget.
That's according to Treasurer and Budget Officer Bill Cherry, who's assembling the budget and will release it in a couple of weeks.
"Considering the state of the economy in Upstate New York and Schoharie County's precarious financial condition after the flood, I'm pleased with the progress of the budget," Mr. Cherry said last week.
He's also confident the budget won't carry much of a tax rate increase--probably two percent at the most.
"A two percent or less property tax increase is about as good as we can hope for these days," Mr. Cherry said.
Although he doesn't have a total spending amount yet, Mr. Cherry is sure the 2014 levy won't exceed the state-mandated tax-levy cap.
The state cap for next year is 1.66 percent, but other factors put the county's cap at about three percent.
"We'll be under the tax cap and still provide services people expect," Mr. Cherry said.
"There will be no reduction in services."
But there won't be expanded programs or no programs, either, Mr. Cherry added.
Much of the county budget pays for state-mandated services, and the state usually reimburses the county for them.
Schoharie County is taking a financial hit on one such program. Family Assistance in the Social Services budget is increasing by $500,000, but the state reimbursement for the program is decreasing by $200,000.
"It creates a $700,000 gap," Mr. Cherry said. "It's a double whammy."
He doesn't necessarily blame Albany for the gap, pointing to "budget constraints in Albany and Washington."
Still, Mr. Cherry is confident the county can close that gap despite issues with revenue coming in next year.
Sales tax is a major revenue source, and Mr. Cherry budgeted $15.5 million in sales-tax revenue for 2013.
He estimated the $15.5 million based on expectations that the economy is recovering.
However, "we're not on track for $15.5 million," Mr. Cherry said. "Maybe $15 million."
Based on what he now anticipates to take in this year, Mr. Cherry lowered his expectation in 2014 to $15.25 million.
The 2014 budget will address what Mr. Cherry called "inherent discrepancies" in salaries of non-union employees: department heads, deputy department heads, Board of Elections employees and a few others.
The wages of the county's unionized employees advanced faster in past years than the salaries of the non-union workers, he said.
In some cases, department heads are making less than the employees under them.
The budget will address those inequities, Mr. Cherry added.
"I'm confident we can do that and stay under the tax cap," he added.
Overall, he's pleased with the budget so far.
"It's a hold-the-line budget that maintains existing services," Mr. Cherry said.