Rensselaerville budget squeaks under tax cap

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Red, white, and blue: The Rensselaerville senior and youth bus is parked outside during a picnic held this summer at town hall. A $1,000 increase was made for the 2014 preliminary budget for maintenance on the bus and car used by the town for its elderly residents. The cost of the bus itself was reimbursed by donations collected in 2008 by a handful of residents, two of whom are currently on the town board.

Click here to view a copy of Rensselaerville's 2014 preliminary budget.

RENSSELAERVILLE — The increase to the town’s tax levy for its proposed $2.39 million 2014 budget is about $700 under that allowed by state law.

The town board will vote today at its Nov. 14 meeting on a local law to override the state-set cap on increases to the levy of property taxes. The board is doing so on the recommendation of the state comptroller’s office, Lounsbury said, because the margin is so slim.

At a Nov. 12 public hearing, Supervisor Valerie Lounsbury warned that the law is a precautionary measure as the current preliminary budget is expected to come under the cap. Last year, the board voted to override the 2-percent cap, but the adopted budget had a levy increase just under. The cap is lower this year, at 1.66 percent, due to a dip in the inflation rate.

The board is scheduled to vote on the $2.39 million spending plan at a Nov. 18 meeting. Overall spending in the 2014 preliminary budget decreased from $2.45 million last year, but the fund balance, for offsetting the amount to be raised from taxes and any unexpected changes in revenues, is more than a third less this year.

The amount to be raised in taxes would increase by $37,668 to $1.27 million in the preliminary budget for next year. Lounsbury said the estimated tax rate for the general and highway funds would be $7.92 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Many decreases were made to funds that did not spend close to their appropriated amounts in 2013, and increases were generally modest. Some of the money taken out was put into miscellaneous contractual lines that can be used for various purposes within the same department.

Around $6,000 has been budgeted for new computers, one of the larger single increases, because the programs used by the town no longer support the Windows XP operating system. Updates also need to be made to the town’s router, Lounsbury said.

Almost $1,600 was added to the $3,000 salary for the town’s highway clerk. The hourly rate increased from $10.50 to $11.

“She was paid less than what the other clerks are paid, like the deputy town clerk,” Lounsbury told The Enterprise. “So we felt it only fair to give her the same hourly wage.”

An extra $400 was added to the court clerk’s salary, with the two justices expecting a second clerk to be hired after the current clerk, Victoria Kraker, leaves to be town clerk. Board members noted at Tuesday’s meeting that the court had two clerks in the past and the second one could be temporary.

Money was budgeted for raises for highway workers as well, but, Lounsbury noted, the town board is still in negotiations with the bargaining unit.

Lounsbury also suggested during the Nov. 12 meeting that the town board appoint Kraker, town clerk-elect, as a second deputy town clerk during the remainder of the year. It would be on a temporary, $11-per-hour basis in order for her to train under outgoing town Clerk Kathleen Hallenbeck. Hallenbeck will retire after 40 years in the position.

Lounsbury noted the town has had two deputy town clerks, so there is money in the budget, but one is currently not working because of illness.

The training conferences for the town clerk’s office were increased by $400 to $1,000 with the expectation of the new town clerk.

The budget that covered part of the cost for the town newsletter was kept at $5,000. The now-defunct newsletter was the subject of some criticism during the public hearing on the budget last year when much of its funding was removed, and a special meeting was held in August to develop ideas for reviving the distribution of town information.

Councilwoman Marion Cooke said she is currently seeking an undetermined number of members from various hamlets to join a committee for planning an alternative to the newsletter.

Board members have said the use of electronic versions and volunteers will be explored. Lounsbury said at the Nov. 12 work meeting that $1,000 should be transferred from postage to a miscellaneous contractual line so the funds can be used for other central mailing and printing purposes.

“We need to keep the advertising small and controllable,” Lounsbury said at the work meeting of the future newsletter. She added that its content should be for town news, current events, and board minutes, not political parties.

Auditing fees for the town’s accounting firm were increased in the budget by $5,000 to a total of $25,000.

“We’re still trying to get current with our annual reports,” said Lounsbury.

Lounsbury said the town was not required to undergo an audit of its Federal Emergency Mangement Agency funds once thought to be necessary. She said the amount of federal money used by the town was less than the threshold that triggers a required audit. The Single Audit Act passed in 1984 requires audits by municipalities spending more than $500,000 in a fiscal year.

Fees for the town’s accounting software, Lounsbury said, had decreased $5,300.

The town’s attorney, Tabner, Ryan, & Keniry, requested an increase of $2,000, totaling $35,500.

The assessor’s budget was restructured in accordance with experience and certification, but remained at $28,111.

“That’s because we did this in anticipation of having new assesors that may not be certified, so we wanted to clarify what the wage was, the salary was for uncertified, certified, and chair,” Lounsbury told The Enterprise. Kathryn Wank and Donna Kropp were elected to the town’s open assessors posts; the town has three elected assessors. Kropp is the current chair of the department and Wank is new to the post.

Money allocated for veterans’ services was lowered by half to $1,000 because the Veterans of Foreign Wars Durham Valley post has disbanded. The close of the meals program at the Hiawatha Grange Hall in Westerlo decreased a budget line, as well, resulting in almost $3,000 less for senior services. Maintenance funds for the town’s senior bus were doubled to $2,000.

“We increased that because the bus is getting older and you have to keep tires on it; you have to have it inspected,” Lounsbury said of maintenance for the senior bus. “We’ve had to have it aligned twice in the last year. That also goes for the car.”

A total of $2,000 was added for parks, for new benches and a backboard for the Rensselaerville park tennis court, and to repair fencing at the Medusa park.

The Rensselaerville library’s appropriation was increased from $20,000 to $22,500. Lounsbury said during a candidates’ forum in October that half of the requested increase for the library was given in line with what the town could afford, with the hope that the rest could be increased in the budget next year. The library’s appropriation was decreased from $25,000 in the 2012 budget.

From zero, the budget line for the town historian was increased to $100 for supplies in anticipation of appointing a new historian. The current historian, Irene Olsen, has suggested a new person take her place soon.

The sales tax shared by Albany County with towns was less than expected for 2013. The estimated revenue from the county for the general fund was decreased for 2014 by $53,000 to $350,000. More than $403,000 was in the budget last year, but $299,368 has been received so far.

For the highway, the amount for the distribution was increased from $135,000 to $188,000.

The expected revenue from the state for road improvements each year — the Consolidated Local Streets and Highway Improvement Program — remained the same at $181,514.

Appropriations in the preliminary budget are $4,000 for the Preston Hollow light district and $4,500 for the Rensselaerville light district. For fire districts, $59,889 is expected for the Rensselaerville fire district, $58,888 for the Tri-Village district, and $61,389 for the Medusa district.

No money from the fund balance was used for the special districts.

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