Altamont adopts $2.5M budget for next year

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Not any more: The Crounse House, owned by the village of Altamont and town of Guilderland, is no longer listed for sale. As part of its adopted $2.46 million 2020-21 budget, Altamont included $50,000 to demolish the house. 

ALTAMONT — The Altamont Board of Trustees on Tuesday adopted a $2.46 million budget for 2020-21 that is up about 3.3 percent over this year but still under the state-set levy limit.

The tax rate for next year will be $1.97 per $1,000 of assessed value; this year’s rate is $2.72 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The village tax rate has gone down because Guilderland undertook a town-wide revaluation last year — which led to all the property in the village having a cumulative assessed value of about $152 million, up from approximately $106 million last year. 

With the new assessments, some property owners could see their taxes go down, village Treasurer Catherine Hasbrouck told The Enterprise and provided the following example:

In 2019-20, an Altamont resident with a $138,000 home — which was about 78 percent of its assessed value — paid the village about $363 in property taxes [$138,000 x ($2.7175/$1,000) = $363.60]. 

In 2020-21, with the town-wide revaluation in place, that same home now has an assessed value  of $184,000 but will pay the village about $361 in property taxes [$184,000 x ($1.9658/$1,000) = $361.71]. 

But others could see their taxes go up, according to Hasbrouck:

In 2019-20, a village resident with a $214,100 home — which was about 78 percent of its assessed value — paid about $581 in property taxes to the village [$214,100 x ($2.7175/$1,000) = $581.83]. 

In 2020-21, after the town-wide revaluation, the house now has an assessed value of $315,000 and its will pay the village about $619 in property taxes [$315,000 x ($1.9658/$1,000) = $619.23]. 

The best thing for village residents to do, Hasbrouck said, is to look at the tax bill received from Guilderland in January and find the new assessed value of their home, divide that number by $1,000 and then multiply it by $1.9658 to find what they owe Altamont in property taxes. 

While the tax rate may have gone down, the village board did increase the property tax levy across the entire village by about $10,000 (levying a total of $300,000 on all properties in the village next year, compared to $290,000 this year). This is the first increase in about 16 years, Mayor Kerry Dineen said at a budget hearing in March. 

An Altamont property has seven taxes levied on it: village property;  Guilderland town-wide; Albany County property; Albany County election; special-use district, ambulance; state retirement; and school district.

A large chunk of the actual $78,500 increase in the village’s budget for next year is an allocation of $50,000 (in past years, it had been $10,000) that the village board has made for the eventual demolition of the Crounse House — Guilderland is also chipping in $50,000. Hasbrouck said the Crounse House demolition may not cost $100,000 but the village board wanted a buffer built in.

In 2006, the town and village jointly paid $40,000 in back taxes to Albany County to purchase the Federal-style Crounse House built in 1833 by the area’s first doctor. Altamont’s mayor at the time, James Gaughan, described the condition of the building as “fair to good.” He envisioned housing the village’s extensive archives there, where visitors could learn about Altamont’s history.

But, instead, neither the town nor village did anything to restore or maintain the structure. The house fell into disrepair and the municipalities spent $25,000 in state grant money earmarked for a new roof for the Doctor Crounse House on other projects. Citizens recent efforts to save the historic structure failed.

“Yes, we did increase the Crounse House allocation; however, we trimmed back in other areas; it’s all about balancing,” Dineen told The Enterprise by email. “The residents will be getting a lot for the relatively small tax increase they will have; infrastructure repairs, street paving, new sidewalks, mechanics for the sewer plant, park upgrades, and an expanded Village Hall parking lot, are only a few of the benefits in this budget.”

Since the back portion of the Crounse House has been condemned, it could be demolished and sent to an asbestos-specific landfill. But with the front part of the building, it would possibly have to first be stabilized, then abated it, then knocked down, all of which would cost more — unless the front of the building is condemned as well. 

In 2016, the engineering firm Barton and Loguidice performed an assessment on the Crounse House and came up with two options to save it:

— Option 1: Demolition of the collapsed structures, reinforcement of the primary residence, and an asbestos abatement, which would have cost $52,900; and

— Option 2: A complete demolition and removal of the collapsed structure, a complete abatement, a repair of  the frost and foundation walls, new wood framing, new exterior finishes, repairs to the existing joists and floor supports, and new metal roofing system, which would have run $112,000.

At the March budget hearing, it was said that the original cost to demolish the building and take it to a landfill would have been between $28,000 and $30,000. 

The village’s largest expenditures for next year are expected to be:

— General government support, of about $360,000, which includes the one-time cost of $50,000 for the Crounse House and $135,000 to fix the brick veneer of the firehouse (which is money carried over from 2018-19);

— Public safety, which includes police and fire, about $306,000;

— Transportation, or the village’s department, about $291,000; and 

— Employee benefits, about $168,000.

The village is expecting to receive the largest part of its revenue, $585,000, from sales tax, which is up from $560,000 at March’s budget hearing because the village received $618,000 in sales-tax revenue from Albany County this year, and typically receives more in sales-tax revenue than it anticipates.

But, because of restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus, many businesses are closed with no sales-tax revenue coming into the state and Albany County. The state gets half of the 8-percent sales tax; the county then passes on part of its half to its municipalities based on population. If sales-tax revenues decrease, the village would have to rely on its fund balance, and, if that’s not enough, the worst-case scenario would be borrowing money, Hasbrouck said.

The village’s other sources of revenue include:

— $300,093 from property taxes;

— $137,441 from fire-protection services;

— $48,500 in total state aid;

— $38,000 in cable franchise fees; and 

— $20,000 from fines and forfeited bail;  

About $330,000 would be appropriated from the general-fund’s fund balance to close the gap between what the village is paying for goods and services and what revenue it is taking in, a number which includes the already-accounted for $135,000 to fix the brick veneer of the firehouse.

“It’s not black and white,” Hasbrouck said of fund balances.

The proposed water budget totals about $411,000 of which about $375,500 is covered by metered water sales, with about $35,000 from the water-fund balance to cover the difference. 

The sewer budget totals about $551,000 of which about $442,000 is covered by sewer rents, with about $109,000 appropriated from the sewer-fund balance to make up the remaining balance. 

Just because the money is in the appropriated fund balance, Hasbrouck said, that doesn’t mean it’s going to all get spent. Often, she said, the village doesn’t spend a lot of the appropriated fund balance — it’s a matter of having it there, just in case; the rents paid by sewer and water customers regularly replenish the coffers.

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