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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 8, 2009

$30M preliminary budget won’t raise taxes

Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — The town, as of Oct. 5, officially has a preliminary budget for 2010.

The tentative budget, which was filed by Supervisor Kenneth Runion on Sept. 30, was reviewed by the town board at a special meeting on Monday. Board members unanimously agreed to schedule a public hearing about the budget for Nov. 5.

The $30 million budget will not raise town taxes, a point which Runion — an incumbent Democrat up for re-election — emphasized at the meeting; the tax rate will remain at 26 cents per $1,000.

The budget, according to Runion, looks excellent and stable. “We’re in great financial shape, and could even absorb a small reduction of revenues,” the supervisor said.

Republican Councilman Warren Redlich, who asked the majority of the questions posed at the special meeting, has concerns.

Redlich wanted to know why the budget did not set money aside for the significant increases in pension contribution that will take place in 2011, according to State Comptroller Michael D’Napoli.

At the meeting, John Marra, the town’s chief fiscal officer, responded to Redlich by saying, “This is 2010. We’ll worry about 2011 when we get there.”

Redlich and fellow Republican councilman, Mark Grimm, a minority on the board, both voiced the idea that the budget should anticipate the extra contributions, rather than wait until the problem arises.

At the meeting, Runion said the extra money would be spread among many funds and departments, and would not be drawn solely from the general fund, something he reiterated to The Enterprise yesterday.

“The last time there was a significant increase, we were able to take care of it through normal budgeting procedures at that time. We have healthy reserves. We could meet the obligations in 2011,” said Runion.

Redlich, who indicated that there could be an increase of $600,000 in pension contributions in 2011, told The Enterprise he did not think it was sound fiscal planning to ignore the upcoming rise in expenditures. It would be a good idea to set aside $400,000 in the 2010 budget, in anticipation of 2011 contributions, he said.

According to Runion, there are no accurate figures for the actual increase in pension contributions yet.

Another budget concern for Redlich was that the budget does not specify where funds will come from for projects that the town board has already approved. In 2009, the board approved $75,000 for the McKownville stormwater project, $35,000 for stormwater improvements off of Curry Road, and a traffic study on Dr. Shaw Road.

Redlich asked which line would be paying for the projects. Runion said there was a possibility that part of the funding would come from the 2009 budget, and part from the 2010 budget.

“We have our contingencies, which I haven’t dipped into in years, and we don’t spend all the money allocated from all of our lines. We could make transfers,” Runion said yesterday.

“It’s not a contingency, it’s money we’ve already approved spending,” said Redlich, adding that there should be a $150,000 line added to the budget for those three projects.

Another item not in the budget for 2010 is a salary for a third judge, an addition the town board approved earlier in 2009, pending approval by the State Legislature. Runion said the bill had not gone through due to the recent upheaval in the legislature, and that, if it went through, it would not be until June or July 2010, at which point the proposal would have to come back before the town board.

In that case, said Redlich, the town should budget ahead for a third judge for half of the year.

In terms of sales-tax revenues, Runion said the numbers were even with the numbers for 2007, the year on which he based the revenue figures. $10,050,000 is the sales tax revenue projection for 2010.

The numbers for Guilderland, from Albany County Comptroller Michael Connors, indicate that the checks received in the first two quarters of 2009 point toward a shortfall of about $400,000, according to Redlich. An imitation of the pattern of 2007 would result in total sales tax revenues of $9.7 million, rather than $10.05 million, Redlich said.

Connors told The Enterprise that sales-tax revenue is down roughly 7-percent in the third-quarter, but that it was looking steady.

In total, Redlich feels that the preliminary budget is falling short by about $1 million — $400,000 in sales tax revenue, $400,000 for pension contribution increases, $150,000 for approved project spending, and $50,000 for a third judge.

Runion said that, in his opinion, Redlich and Grimm were pointing out shortfalls that didn’t exist in an attempt to raise taxes.

“They want to make it a political issue,” Runion said.

Redlich said he thought Runion was putting off costs until 2011 so he could say that property taxes are not being raised.

Guilderland’s town code specifies that the town board shall classify budget requests as critical, important, or optional, something Redlich said was not done before the preliminary budget was approved.

Priorities should be examined, said Redlich. As an example, he told The Enterprise that he would rather have paramedics and police paid for extra coverage, than receive the 1-percent raise built in to the 2010 budget for each town board member.

“There is nothing in the budget that’s optional, and nothing that’s critical. Everything thing in the budget is important,” Runion responded through The Enterprise. He said the language of the town code implied that it was up to board members, not the supervisor, to set the priority levels. The 30-day period between the Oct. 5 meeting and the Nov. 5 public hearing is meant to allow time for the board to review the budget and make recommendations; the board could still mark priorities, Runion said.

Above all, Redlich said he felt that the budget process was not open enough to give town board members the ability to make responsible decisions.

“I can contribute, but I don’t feel I’m enabled to contribute in a competent way,” said Redlich.

“That period before Sept. 30 is really for the supervisor to prepare the budget and make recommendations,” Runion said. “I think the budget is sound and conservative for these economic times.”

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