Knox super ‘not ready to sound the alarm’ on budget after pandemic 

The Enterprise — Noah Zweifel

Residents in the gallery for Knox’s June 9 meeting sit six feet apart and wear masks to protect others against the coronavirus.

KNOX — Two weeks after Westerlo Supervisor William Bichteman prepared his town for the possibility of layoffs and steep tax hikes, Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis told his constituents that, based on his projections of sales-tax loss over the next year, Knox’s budget can absorb all damages with its hearty fund balance as a diffuser. 

“I’m not ready to sound the alarm just yet,” Lefkaditis said at the town board’s June 9 regular meeting — the first the public could physically attend since the statewide coronavirus restrictions were enacted in March.

In a PowerPoint, Lefkaditis showed residents the “preliminary estimates” — based on information from the Albany County Department of Management and New York State Taxation and Finance — that anticipate a 30-percent loss of revenue in the second quarter, a 15-percent loss in the third, and a 5-percent loss in the fourth. 

For Knox, that translates to $129,505.17 lost over the course of the year. No small sum, but Lefkaditis said that with “north of $1.9 million of cash in the bank,” the town could “weather multiple COVID-19s” without impacting services or property taxes.

Knox’s 2020 budget is $2.2 million.

Still, like Bichteman, Lefkaditis cautioned that the numbers are estimates. 

“The information’s coming in as we go,” Lefkaditis said. “But as a rule of thumb, we’re going to be short about 130-grand. It might be double that, it might be none of it, depending on how the numbers roll out within the next two quarters, three quarters.” 

Questions from The Enterprise about sales-tax projections were redirected from the county comptroller’s office to Mary Rozak, spokeswoman for the Albany County executive, who could not immediately be reached. 

Last month, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced that the state had seen a 24-percent decrease in sales-tax revenues in April, compared to the amount the state collected in April last year.

Sales tax has been the biggest economic question for small towns in Albany County since it can constitute nearly half of total revenue. Sales tax is collected by the county and distributed to towns according to population. 

In Knox, anticipated sales-tax revenue funded 46 percent of the town’s expenses in the 2020 budget, adopted in November 2019. In Berne, sales-tax revenue funded 41 percent; in Westerlo, 40 percent; and in Rensselaerville, 26 percent.

Barring drastic changes in the estimations, Lefkaditis said that the town will discuss the financial aspect of the coronavirus when the budget cycle begins at the end of the summer. 


Other business

In other business, the Knox Town Board: 

— Heard from Lefkaditis about his Multi-use Recreational District proposal, which he said had been reviewed by the Albany County Planning Board and sent back with the determination that there would be a minimal impact on the county. The minutes of that meeting are not yet available online, and Enterprise inquiries to the county planning board were not immediately answered.

This is the second iteration of a rezone for the intersection of routes 156 and 157, first proposed by Lefkaditis in 2016 as a full business district, before he adjusted it to the more-restricted MRD in 2018 following public backlash. The county planning board disapproved of the application in 2019, which set the table for a town board rejection in November that same year, when then-councilmen Earl Barcomb and Dennis Barber voted against it, keeping the board from reaching the supermajority required following the county planning board’s disapproval. In November, Lefkaditis’s slate ousted Democrats Barcomb and Barber.

Lefkaditis told the town board at its June 9 meeting that the planning board chairman, Tom Wolfe, had requested more time for the board to review the application, which Lefkaditis granted; and

— Heard from resident Bridgitte McAuliffe, who asked why Knox’s Annual Update Documents were filed late. Lefkaditis told The Enterprise after the meeting that the town requested an extension of its deadline from March 1 to May 1.

“The focus to date has been on keeping residents and employees safe while short-handed and making sure they had the necessary supplies they needed, not on filing reports,” he said.

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