Guilderland’s tentative $44.5M budget stays under the tax levy limit

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

The Western Turnpike Golf Course is used recreationally year-round by Guilderland residents. “The golf course, because its debt has been paid off, is now a profit-making enterprise,” said Supervisor Peter Barber in presenting his tentative 2024 budget to the town board.

GUILDERLAND — Supervisor Peter Barber presented the town board on Oct. 3 with his tentative $44.5 million budget for 2024, which stays under the state-set levy limit — something Barber said is getting harder to do each year.

He credited “prudent planning” and “a good use of fund balances and reserves” for reigning in the levy increase.

The 2024 tax cap for Guilderland is at $13.6 million and the tentative budget comes in at just $71,254 under that.

The levy increase has been calculated at 2.47 percent.

Independent special districts, including seven fire districts and a relevy on unpaid water, are not included in the tax cap. There are also districts for sewer, water, lighting, and ambulance in which residents living in those districts are taxed for those services.

Town taxes, Barber noted, take up less than 12 percent of the total property taxes paid by Guilderland residents. The “vast majority” he said is for school taxes.

Guilderland will hold a series of budget workshops in October and a public hearing on the budget at on Nov. 2.

In going over some of the budget highlights, Barber said the town’s debt for buying the Western Turnpike Golf course was paid off last year.

Of the time before the bond was paid off, Barber said, “For that 25-year period, the town maintained a separate budget line for the golf course …. We actually did have a burning of the bond … It’s now being rolled back into the A Fund where it belongs.”

Barber went on, “The golf course, because its debt has been paid off, is now a profit-making enterprise …. It really helps with five-year planning. We can start looking at reserves because the golf course does need some improvements.”

Later in the meeting, the board awarded a $96,000 contract to reroof the golf course’s clubhouse.

Also, mortgages were retired recently for buildings the town acquired when it took over the Western Turnpike Rescue Squad with a town service, Guilderland Emergency Medical Services.

“So again, we decided to move that also into the A Fund,” said Barber.

Barber called the Albany County election mandate one of the most “irritating” parts of the budget. Adopted several years ago, the mandate has the county’s board of election charge towns, villages, and cities for their election costs.

“We don’t know what the number is and we won’t know until we get the bill,” said Barber. Last year, Guilderland was charged about $70,000.

On the revenue side, Guilderland gets the bulk of its fund from the county sales tax, which is distributed to municipalities based on population.

“We’ve always been historically low in our estimates for sales tax, which is great,” Barber said, “because, when the check comes in, we all can say, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a few-hundred-thousand dollars maybe we can use elsewhere.’ 

“That difference is narrowing quite a bit … with inflation and the 2-percent cap, it’s getting more and more difficult to stay within that cap. So we’re relying a bit more on sales tax by the tune of about 5 percent. The state comptroller basically is saying anywhere between four and six — so we are right in the middle at 5 percent.”

Meanwhile, the town is decreasing its reliance on the mortgage tax.

On the spending side, Barber said, “EMS fees are likely to go up a bit …. They’re putting in funding for another paramedic and two EMTs so we could staff another ambulance during crunch times.”

Medicare rates are being increased for ambulances as well as hospitals, Barber said. “So it’s not sure exactly how much it’s going to be. But again, EMS relies upon both property taxes, fees that they collect for Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance companies … So it’s almost a $4 million operation, EMS, and it’s well worth it for the quality and service and advanced life support that it provides.”

Also on the spending side, Barber said, state-set retirement contributions went up by 18 percent, almost $400,000, for the town. “It hurts a lot because, again, our 2-percent growth is about $200,000,” said Barber.

Health insurance costs are up by 17 percent, he said, and liability insurance is estimated to increase by 12 percent.

The town plans to replace two police cars this year and to get a new animal-control van and a new truck for the highway department as well as a greens mower for the parks and golf course. Further, the town is contributing to the fire tower training center.

“We’re also going to be upgrading our time and attendance modules, getting new software for that,” said Barber.

Barber concluded, “I think we are still the lowest tax rate in Albany County.”

 

Other business

In other business at their Oct 3 meeting, Guilderland Town Board members:

— Scheduled  a public hearing for Oct. 17, at 7:15 p.m. on a proposed local law to increase tax exemptions for eligible seniors. 

The law would apply to property owners age 65 and older, allowing exemptions on a sliding scale based on income. Someone with an annual income of $58,400 would get a 5-percent exemption while someone with an annual income of $50,000 or less would get a 50-percent exemption.

The current threshold of $37,400 was adopted in 2006, said Barber “which is the last time the state allowed towns and villages and cities to increase tha exemption.”

If the bill is passed by the board, it would apply only to town taxes. Albany County has adopted a similar measure.

“In the end,” said Barber, “the town is really not out any money. It’s just that the tax burden is shifted to everybody else”;

— Funded the right-of-way acquisition costs for the sidewalks on Carman and East Old State roads. Design work, done earlier for $229,000, showed the need for $48,830 for right-of-way acquisitions, said Barber;

— Awarded a contract for the repair and replacement of the clubhouse roof at the Western Turnpike Golf Course to Perfection Roofing, the lowest responsible bidder, for $95,680. Barber said he hoped the work would be done next month; and

— Made an interim appointment of Town Planner Ken Kovalchik as the town’s stormwater management officer after the former officer”somewhat abruptly,” Barber said.

“We are actively advertising for that position,” said Barber. “So far, we have not been very successful in getting anybody interested in that position.”

Barber said that the Albany County Stormwater Coalition, of which Guilderland is a member, is “having difficulty getting a director let alone getting support staff.” He said, “It’s a very competitive field …. It could be a long-term appointment. I’m concerned. I can’t clone Ken.”

Barber also said the town has what “appear to be clear violations of our stormwater regs and Ken would like to start working on this tomorrow.”

The town attorney, James Melita, concurred that there was “immediate need for stormwater enforcement” and that code does not give the town’s building inspector authority to do that.

Councilwoman Amanda Beedle asked if Kovalchik would receive additional pay for the work and Councilwoman Christine Napierski asked, “Are we going to be stretching him too thin if he’s going to be the town planner and the stormwater management officer?”

“I doubt it’s going to be permanent,” said Barber. He added that Kovalchik plans to give the town’s Geographic Information System coordinator more responsibility, perhaps for the Conservation Advisory Council or writing memos for the planning board, “because her work was primarily mapping and we’ve already mapped our stormwater or water, sewer.”

He concluded, “I had the same concern and that’s what I said earlier that I can’t clone him.”

More Guilderland News

  • The historic Dutch barn in what is now Guilderland was built before the American Revolution, Corey Nellis said, with hand-hewn chestnut beams. The American chestnut — once called the redwood of the East because of its huge size — was wiped out by blight more than a century ago.

  • The comments at Monday’s meeting were often supportive of library staff. Some expressed warm memories of the café and its owners while others questioned their allegations of racism. Several people of color spoke, saying they had not experienced racism at the library. The most common call was one for answers on whether racism and harassment had occurred — or not.

  • The Altamont Board of Trustees this month accepted the retirement of its superintendent of public works, Jeffrey Moller. 

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