Knox taxes to decrease 2 % with $2M budget

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Full to the brim: The Knox Transfer Station is overflowing with discarded items, as seen with this container. The issue is a lack of containers and a limited amount of time to drop off waste at the landfill on Rapp Road, which will close in a matter of years. Tipping fees at the landfill are increasing as well.

KNOX — In Knox, the proposed 2018 budget will focus on closing the gap between what is set aside in the budget and what is spent by the town government. However, Knox is also facing possible increased expenses for health insurance and garbage collection, the supervisor said.

Taxes in the $2 million spending plan are to decrease by 2 percent, drawing close to $700,000 from savings that have been accumulating over decades.

According to Knox Assessor Russell Pokorny, a 2-percent decrease would bring the amount of town taxes down from the current $44 to $40 for a $100,000 property.

At the September Knox Town Board meeting, Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis said his primary concerns in drafting the town’s 2018 budget were cost effectiveness and providing essential services.

“My specific goals remain the same,” he told The Enterprise, referring to goals he set for the 2016 budget last year. “Keep taxes low, increase programs.”

The budget totals just over $2 million, with $800,000 coming from county sales tax; a small amount from revenue such as fees, fines, and state aid; $696,000 from the unexpended fund balance, and about $264,000 from local property taxes.

Despite increasing costs in health insurance, capital improvements, garbage disposal, and heavy equipment, Lefkaditis said that taxes will be down by 2 percent in proposed budget. The town is saving that money in part, he said at the meeting, from switching to a cheaper insurance provide, and saving on fuel purchases.

The town’s general fund now totals about $1.3 million, said Lefkaditis. The approximately $700,000 taken out as unexpended funds will be in part returned in the form of grant money, he said. About $300,000 is going to highway equipment purchases; another $200,000 is for the park plan, which will be funded by a grant; and about $150,000 to $200,000 is left as a “buffer,” he said.

“It’s there for the purpose of the budget,” he said. “But I don’t expect to spend it.”

Lefkaditis told The Enterprise that, by switching from a plan with Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan Inc., to a cheaper plan with Mohawk Valley Physicians Healthcare that requires employees to pay out-of-pocket deductibles, the town will save $30,000 this year. Lefkaditis said the town intends to pay for those deductibles.

“There was a minimal increase,” he said, of the insurance costs from 2017 to 2018, but he said that, without the switch, “We’d be paying significantly more.”

Lefkaditis said the town’s interest rate for its debt was cut in half after negotiation, and workers’ compensation and vendor contracts were also renegotiated and lowered. Workers’ compensation, he said was decreased by about $5,000.

Lefkaditis said the town has checking accounts with Keybank totalling about $1.3 million, and that a main account was changed to allow the town to collect interest on the account. A bond through Keybank was renegotiated to lower interest rates, as well, from around 1.6 to 1.7 percent to .88 percent, he said.

Onetime expenses include heating and ventilation repairs, equipment purchases, and $185,000 for improving the town’s park and walking trails, including installing a new playground. Lefkaditis noted that this amount is covered by a state grant.

The town will also be using a bond to pay down a bond anticipation note that had mistakenly and illegally been renewed two times for two years past its due date, after which it should have been funded by a bond, Lefkaditis said at the meeting. The BAN had funded renovation and expansion the the town hall. It was ratified through a state bill that passed in June.

Lefkaditis later noted that the BAN will cost the town $4,300 in interest and $80,000 in principal in 2018, which is what the town paid this year.

Lefkaditis lamented that the town board had not approved his recommendation to hire a different lawyer following the revelation in January as town attorney John Dorfman took the blame for the mistaken renewals because he wrongly thought the BAN had originated in 2008 instead of 2009 and could be renewed for seven years rather than five. Lefkaditis had recommended a new attorney, saying that he said he had negotiated an annual salary of $14,00, as opposed to the $18,094 Dorfman was paid the previous year. The other town board members favored keeping Dorfman.

Lefkaditis said this week that, with these savings in mind, line items such as senior services and the youth council will increase. The supervisor noted that the budget for senior services has increased since 2016 from $2,300 to $3,300 in 2017 and 2018. The youth council budget will increase from $3,300 to $5,500, although Lefkaditis said he intended to change that to $6,500.

“All those things are done in an effort to promote community,” he said.

There is no funding in the budget for capital projects, similar to previous years. The town has discussed a capital project to renovate town buildings, but nothing has been decided yet.

“The capital project is not something you can rush,” said Lefkaditis.

The tax levy, said Lefkaditis, did not increase this year, and the 2018 levy will drop by 2 percent. He said he believes it’s the first time that this has happened in Knox.

With the budget, Lefkaditis said his goal is to decrease the gap between what is budgeted and what is actually spent over the following year. In 2016, 60 percent of what was budgeted for was spent; in 2017, it was 80 percent. He said he hopes to keep that trend going up, noting that he feels it keeps government spending in check.

“You have to budget responsibly to prevent overspending,” he said.

Lefkaditis said the town would have to be wary of increasing insurance costs and tipping fees for waste removal services. He said that, while premiums did not go up this year, he is budgeting for a 15-percent increase.

Tipping fees at the City of Albany Landfill on Rapp Road in Albany have increased as well, from $53 to $66 a ton, and there is a concern that there be a much larger increase in costs for municipalities that use the landfill should it close and force waste to be shipped elsewhere. It is expected to close in five years.

The supervisor said that he was not concerned about decreasing excess funding in the face of these projected costs. He said that there is a contingent line item to be used in the case of an emergency, which increased from $19,904 to $21,000.

 

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