Barber presents ‘very prudent’ $47M town spending plan

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Peter Barber, Guilderland’s supervisor, spoke earlier this month at a press conference celebrating new sidewalks in town.

GUILDERLAND — Supervisor Peter Barber presented Guilderland Town Board members on Sept. 20 with a $39.5 million tentative budget for 2023, excluding special districts. Property taxes to be levied for this are roughly $12.4 million.

With special districts — for lighting, fire protection, ambulance service, sewer and water — the total comes to $47.3 million. Property taxes to be levied for this total are roughly $18 million.

Barber said it was a difficult budget year “with all the craziness out there with inflation and costs and also just uncertainty about a recession.”

The state comptroller’s estimates, Barber said, are “basically all over the board as to what may be happening next … it’s a lot of uncertainty.”

However, Barber said, “I’m remaining cautiously optimistic that things will be better than we fear but we always have to be very prudent when we prepare these budgets.”

The budget stays below the state-set levy limit.

The town over the years has built up extra dollars, Barber said, stressing, “We don’t plan on using it this year because we want to carry it forward for difficult times.”

The total budget is to use roughly $1.6 million of appropriated fund balance.

The bulk of the difference in revenues is to be made up from sales tax, which Albany County distributes to municipalities based on population.

According to an analysis that Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released last week, Albany County’s sales-tax collections in August declined by about 4 percent, from $24.3 million last August to $23.3 million in August 2022. Albany County was the only Capital District county to show a decline for August.

However, from January to August this year, sales tax collection in Albany County increased by 11.6 percent over the same time period in 2021 — from $199.3 million in 2021 to $225.5 million in 2022.

Barber said of his 2023 spending plan, “This budget also relies on a modest increase in sales tax. Again, we think it’s going to be tight but we have a 1.5-percent expected increase in sales-tax revenue. We’re already confident that our projection for this year is going to be exceeded by at least a million, two million dollars — but all that money seems to go to gas, fuel, utilities … Hopefully, it all balances out in the end.”

Barber’s budget, anticipating an economic downturn, adds almost $600,000 in reserves.

 

Workers

The tentative 2023 budget includes 2.5-percent salary increases for all nonunion workers and also includes increases for union workers according to their collective bargaining agreements.

The supervisor’s salary is budgeted at $129,883; the highway superintendent’s salary aat $110,270, and the town clerk’s salary at $81,617 — all three of those posts are full-time.

For part-time posts, town board members are to make $27,788 each while town justices earn $58,764 each.

“We’re adding some staff,” said Barber, naming a paramedic and emergency medical technician team. “That’s to respond to ever-increasing volume as our population gets older,” said Barber.

According to the United States Census Bureau, 18.4 percent of Guilderland’s roughly 37,000 residents are 65 or older.

He said that the director of emergency medical services “is surprised every month how many more calls he’s getting.”

The town is currently building a third emergency station, funded largely by monies from the federal American Rescue Plan.

The tentative budget sets aside $50,000 in reserve for an ambulance. “They cost almost a quarter-of-a-million dollars today,” said Barber, anticipating the cost to buy an ambulance will only increase.

The tentative budget also includes a fifth sergeant at the police department and a new inspector for the zoning, building, and fire department. The new inspector would help the department “to respond on a more timely basis to issues and complaints that come up,” said Barber.

A new specialist in information technology is also included. “Police cars are walking computers now,” said Barber.

Finally, laborers are to be hired both for the parks department and for the town’s transfer station “just to keep our infrastructure in good shape,” said Barber.

 

Good and bad

“The good news is we retire the golf course mortgage,” said Barber. “Here’s the bond so we can do a mortgage-burning at some point,” he said, holding up the document.

The town’s golf course is appropriated $807,756 in the 2023 plan with revenues estimated at $1,141,700.

“The bad side of all this stuff is utilities,” said Barber. The tentative budget appropriates a half-million more dollars than this year for electricity and natural gas.

The town’s three-year contract, which ends this year, had the price for electricity set at 5.6 cents per kilowatt hour. The new two-year contract sets that price at 12.86 cents.

The town owns a solar facility in Amsterdam from which it gets $100,000 annually in credits. “We’re doing the best we can to turn to green technology,” said Barber, but it won’t overcome the dramatic increases in costs of electricity and natural gas.

“Diesel fuel, gas, chemicals — all those things are up 50 to 100 percent so it really is driving the budget,” said Barber.

For the town’s required payments into the state’s retirement system, Barber said, “This year was good.” Based on a five-year average, the stock market was doing fairly well so the town’s payment went down by nearly $418,000, he said.

“But today the state also sent us notification about 2024 — a year from now, they’re already projecting a $300,000 increase in the other direction …,” Barber said. “Yoyo-ing is very, very frustrating.”

He concluded, “It’s probably been the most difficult budget to prepare with all these uncertainties. We still have a very conservative approach. We hope that things turn out better than we fear,” he reiterated, “and if they do then we have the ability to amend the budget at any point during the year.

“But again, right now, we are right at the maximum in terms of the tax cap that we don’t want to exceed.”

Barber told board members he hoped they would give the plan a thorough review but he cautioned, “If we add something to the budget, we’ve got to find a way to pay for it.”

Budget workshops are scheduled in Town Hall at 6 p.m. on Oct. 11 and 18, and, if needed, on Oct. 20. A public hearing on the budget is set for Nov. 1, also at 6 p.m.

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