With 752-percent increase, Berne proposes highest tax rate since 2016

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Berne Town Hall

BERNE — Berne’s tax holiday is over. 

Although the budget has not yet been finalized, the town has proposed a tax rate of $4.60 per $1,000 — the highest it’s been since 2016, when the rate was around $4.66 per $1,000. 

In other words, someone a Berne resident with a home assessed at $300,000 would expect to pay $1,380, instead of the $162 they paid this year under the current rate of $0.54 per $1,000.

With the 752-percent increase, any misconception that the GOP administration had used budget wizardry to lower taxes over the past few years will be wiped out. 

Berne had been relying on a fund balance built up by former Democratic supervisors Kevin Crosier and Alan Zuk to cover the gap created when Republican Supervisor Sean Lyons and his board voted to lower taxes around 87 percent f0r 2022, after making single-digit (though still substantial) decreases almost every year since he took office in 2016.

The strategy has been criticized by Democrats in the town who argued that depleting the fund balance was short-sighted, leaving the town vulnerable in the event of an emergency (like a pandemic or major storm — both of which have occurred over the past decade). 

The town — now led by Republican Supervisor Dennis Palow, who was first elected to the town board alongside Lyons and served as his deputy until his own election as supervisor — first left the total levy off the preliminary budget altogether (which is a violation of state law), and then posted the rate on its website. 

An unfortunate error on the website first described the rate as a percent, stating that the levy would increase by 4.6 percent, which would be negligible given the ultra-low original rate. 

Democrats have also accused Republicans of cutting taxes just before a big election in 2021, when Democrats had put up a full slate of candidates in an ultimately failed attempt to win back the board majority. 

It was hard not to wonder whether Democrats would have been inheriting a time bomb, being forced to raise taxes as the current Republican-backed board just has, and punished for it in the 2023 election. 

Republicans, having won the 2021 election handily, have been given a pass on the increase by virtue of the Democrats failing to back any candidates this year, leaving the two open board seats uncontested. 

Berne Democratic Committee members said they saw no point in attempting to run a campaign this year, claiming dubiously that they would not have any sway with just two seats, and saying instead they plan to go all in come 2025. 

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