For 2020: New Scotland adopts flat $8.2M budget with a scant tax increase 

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
The decision to move the county’s emergency-medical-services staff from part-time to full-time has had an immediate impact on the budgets of the municipalities served by the Albany County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Medical Services.

NEW SCOTLAND — Despite getting hit with a large, last-minute increase in its emergency-services costs for next year, New Scotland’s adopted budget for 2020 is down from this year, and, while the town is under the state-set levy limit, residents will see a slight increase their taxes.

The tax rate for all New Scotland residents (including those who live in the village of Voorheesville) in 2020 will be $1.48 per $1,000 of assessed value. This year, residents pay a rate of $1.45 per $1,000 of assessed value; in 2018, the rate was $1.40 per $1,000.

“It’s a bit of a Catch-22,” said Supervisor Douglas LaGrange, “because if you don’t use it, then you hurt yourself for next year — and we also had to swallow that big increase for the EMS.”

LaGrange said that one of the reasons for letting the rate go up a bit is so the town can take advantage of the full tax cap. 

If New Scotland were to use more of its fund balance to close its 2020 budget gap, it would be leaving money on the table, which would hurt next year’s budget even more. Because, while all other costs will almost assuredly continue to rise, the town would be starting the 2021 budget season with less money in the bank — the total town levy — and would have to draw down even harder on its rainy-day fund.

In September, Sheriff Craig Apple announced that the county’s emergency medical services would be moving to full-time staff, while the budgets of the towns and villages that pay for those services — Rensselaerville, Westerlo, Berne, New Scotland, Voorheesville, Coeymans, and Ravena — were immediately impacted. 

New Scotland’s combined ambulance and EMT costs have gone from about $429,000 this year to about $479,00 next year, up $50,000, a roughly 11.5-percent increase. 

But the town as well as the other county-service-consuming municipalities avoided a 25-percent increase when Apple agreed to kick in another $150,000 cover costs, revenue recovered from charges for ambulance calls.

Because the towns and villages were hit with the cost increases so late, LaGrange said, it was too late “to make any big changes,” and so the municipalities all decided to absorb the “comparatively” more modest 10- to 15-percent increases with the understanding that there won’t be any huge changes in 2021, with increases anticipated to be about 5-percent. 

The year following — 2022 — is of concern, when emergency-service costs could increase by another 30 percent, because the assumption is, by that point, a newly negotiated contract will be in place and the county’s EMT and paramedic wages will be brought in line with those of other local municipalities. 

An Albany County paramedic currently makes $22 per hour while a paramedic working in Guilderland earns about $28 per hour. Guilderland emergency medical technicians earn $20 an hour while county EMTs earn $14.50.

So now, with budget bomb ready to blast a hole municipal budgets, all of the towns and villages that receive emergency services from the sheriff will have extra incentive to work very hard with both the county and sheriff to come up with a county-wide solution to pay for services. 

The timing does appear to be tight.

But LaGrange and David VanLuven, Bethlehem’s supervisor, recently met with County Executive Daniel McCoy who, while initially having been out of the loop on the sheriffs’ cost increases, wanted to do whatever he could do to help the process move toward a county-wide solution — which would require the state voting to give the Albany County home rule to set up its own special tax districts to pay for emergency services. 

And while LaGrange said the town was very pleased with the emergency services provided by the sheriff, the cost spikes that could be coming in 2022 are just too much for any single town or village to take on. Especially considering that, with a state-imposed levy limit, local municipalities are already stretched. 

New Scotland projects its 2020 unappropriated unreserved fund balance to be about $2.95 million while it expects to drain about $299,000 from the fund.

The largest expected generators of revenue are $2.9 million from the property-tax levy and $2.1 million in sales-tax revenue, distributed by the county based on municipalities’ population.

The town’s full-time elected officials in 2020 will take home: $64,000 for the supervisor; $59,500 for the town clerk; and $75,600 for the highway superintendent. In part-time posts, the town’s two judges will earn about $28,800, while each of the town’s four board members will take home close to $10,000. All positions received 2-percent cost-of-living adjustments. 

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