With $2.6 M budget, spending and tax levy both down

WESTERLO — Westerlo residents will see a decreased budget of $2.584 million in 2016, while the spending plan increases in fire protection and engineering costs.

The proposed budget is down $40,144 from the current budget.

Supervisor Richard Rapp attributed the lower budget to retirements.

“We have less employees,” he said. “A couple small ones — it adds up.”

The tax levy is proposed at $1.254 million for 2016, down from $1.263 million. Rapp said that the tax rate is not yet available.

“I don’t expect it to change much,” he told The Enterprise. “It wasn’t high.”

Westerlo’s tax rate for 2015 was $862 per $1,000, according to town assessor Peter Hotaling. Neighboring town’s have rates under $2 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Rapp previously said that Westerlo last underwent a revaluation in the 1950s; tax rates are skewed, in violation of state standards.

A large change in the proposed budget for 2016 from last year’s is $114,640 in principal and interest paid in 2015 for a bond anticipation note, which is absent in the 2016 budget. The same amount is reflected in the highway fund in reductions in both real property and non-property taxes.

“We had trucks and machinery. Two are paid up this year. That BAN was done,” Rapp said.

State retirement costs are shown as rising by $17,000 in the town’s preliminary budget document, but Rapp insisted that retirement costs did not go up.

“This year, it’s going to go down,” he said.

Municipalities across the state had to pay more for retirement funds after the stock market faltered in the 2008 recession; for the first time since then, in 2016, municipalities will be paying less for retirement.

In the town’s general fund, most budget items are unchanged. Engineering costs are up $20,000, to $30,000 total.

The funds will be used “when we finally decide what to do about the highway garage and the town court,” Rapp said.

In September, a public vote, forced by a citizens’ petition, on a $2.75 million project that would have upgraded the town hall and built a new highway garage, was soundly defeated.

Ambulance costs are up $5,000 in the general fund, but the town’s ambulance fund for contracted services remains static at $100,000.

“They do a good job,” Rapp said of the ambulance crews. “They don’t get the credit they deserve.”

Last year, Westerlo turned down a proposal for county services, deferring to the value of its volunteer rescue squad.

The town’s museum art gallery fund increased from $8,000 in 2015 to $12,460 for 2016, with $2,160 slated for personal services. The budget remains down from previous years, when the town earmarked a total of $14,000 for the gallery, with $5,000 toward personal services.

After years of work on the project, the town officially opened its museum during the bicentennial celebration this fall. Funds cover contractual and personal services.

“Now that we’ve got it [open], it can be used all the time. We can hire someone to help out,” Rapp said. Funds will also be used to add a porch to the museum and to install a shed for storage, he said.

The town’s budget for fire protection rose from $191,000 in 2015 to $225,863 for 2016, an increase of $35,000.

“They want to buy a new truck,” Rapp said. “That’s the start. New trucks cost much more than that.”

Westerlo, a town with about 3,400 people, has 2,218 eligible voters, according to 2015 figures from the Albany County Board of Elections.

Rapp said that the town receives the majority of its revenue from the county sales tax.

“You get more revenue from that than you do from taxes,” he said.

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