MAHOPAC, N.Y.— The Town Board has approved its 2017 budget, a $27.1 million spending package that calls for a tax rate increase of 1.6 percent.
Under this budget, the average assessed home at $204,940 would have a tax bill of about $1,711, up $26 from last year. The tax rate would be at 8.35 percent, a 1.6 percent increase from 2016’s budget. According to town comptroller Mary Ann Maxwell, it’s the lowest tax rate increase in the past 10 years.
“It’s certainly the lowest tax levy and tax rate increase since I took office in 2008,” Supervisor Ken Schmitt said. “There were some tough years we had to navigate through. There were some layoffs. But I think we have turned the corner.”
The budget also remains under the state-mandated tax cap, which was implemented in 2011. It’s 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Maxwell said .68 percent is the current rate of inflation, so that became this year’s cap.
The 2017 budget includes pay raises for some of the town’s elected officials. Schmitt, Highway Superintendent Mike Simone and Town Clerk Ann Spofford each receive a 4 percent salary hike. Schmitt’s salary goes from $108,514 to $112,854; Simone’s will increase from $113,339 to $117,934; Spofford’s jumps from $85,195 to $88,608. The receiver of taxes position also receives a 4 percent salary increase, though state law does not require municipalities to disclose those numbers.
The Town Board members all received a 2 percent raise. Their salaries increased from $20,038 to $20,438.
Councilman John Lupinacci said that the raises for Schmitt, Simone and Spofford were well-deserved and with the budget coming in under the tax cap, it could be done.
“I felt that with what they represent to the town, we could give them a 4 percent raise; it’s not very often we could do that,” he said. “We are under the cap anyway so we could do it. The raise that the Town Board got is just a few hundred dollars and with a $27 million budget, it’s not a lot.”
Schmitt had praise for Maxwell and the Town Board for the work they did on the budget.
“I want to thank the comptroller’s office for their hard work and dedication and commitment,” he said during the Town Board’s Nov. 16 meeting. “It’s been non-stop crunching of numbers. [Maxwell] has been meeting with me and putting up with me. But we did it and got it done.”
Schmitt said there were some minor changes to the budget since the Nov. 9 public hearing, but nothing that would impact the tax levy or tax rate.
“We increased some spending and reduced others,” he said. “I am very comfortable saying the town’s department heads are comfortable [with the budget].”
Schmitt said one of the new expenditures was the addition of a new full-time police officer as well as several new part-time employees. He noted that the new full-time police officer is in advance of an officer who is expected to retire next year. Maxwell pointed out that the final budget also reflects a higher mortgage tax figure on the revenue side than was originally anticipated.
Councilman Frank Lombardi said that one trend that’s taken place with the town budget for the past several years is an increase in the fund balance reserves, rather than using that money to lower the tax levy and stay under the tax cap.
“We had to make some hard decisions that some people didn’t like, but it’s a good budget,” he said.
“We are putting money back into our reserves,” Lupinacci said “Other towns are staying under the tax cap but they are using their reserves to do it. They are hurting themselves. We have turned that around and that is a big positive.”
Lombardi pointed out that recently the town has been able to pay for the purchase of new highway department equipment outright without having to borrow money.
Schmitt also noted that the town has maintained an Aa1 bond rating, which increases its borrowing power at a lower interest rate should it ever need to float a bond.
“I am very happy about that,” he said.
The supervisor also credited the town’s unions, which he said were instrumental in keeping the tax levy under control.
“We had some tough contract negotiations [with the police and highway departments] this past year,” he said. “But I applaud them for tightening their belts and agreeing to pay for some of their [health] benefits.”