By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO County legislators acknowledged Thursday that taxpayers can expect a 2013 tax hike exceeding the state’s 2 percent cap.
Just to cover state-mandated program increases, next year’s budget will go up by $1.4 million, said County Manager David Fanslau at the Legislature’s Executive Committee meeting.
“[Keeping the tax increase at] the 2 percent tax cap would raise less than $1 million,” he added.
Legislators also indicated that keeping everything in this year’s budget intact for next year’s would require a 14 percent tax increase, prompting Legislator Kitty Vetter to ask, “Can we put a limit on the lift?”
Other legislators, like Jonathan Rouis, said they first wanted to see more concrete numbers.
“I’m not ready to make that decision,” Rouis explained, “because I don’t have the data to make it.”
Legislator Kathy LaBuda added that some expenditures which fall under the Legislature’s discretion like the $4 million given to SUNY Sullivan couldn’t be made without exceeding the tax cap.
But Vetter’s fellow Republican legislator, Alan Sorensen, agreed, “I think there needs to be some kind of cap to the cap.”
Legislators are stuck in a problematic position, as their predecessors drained more than $12 million out of the county’s surpluses the past two years in order to maintain programs, staff and zero-percent tax hikes. Thus, there’s little further to draw from.
“At some point,” predicted a somber Legislator Cora Edwards, “we’ll have to accept the fact that we’ll be doing really well if we keep it [a tax increase] under double-digits.”
Legislator Ira Steingart said the public must be made aware.
“We have enough information to know the 2 percent cap is not going to work,” he observed. “... Let’s let the public know we have a problem.”
Thus legislators unanimously set a public hearing on the proposal to exceed the tax cap, scheduled for Thursday, July 19 at 4:10 p.m. at the Government Center in Monticello.
“Come and let us know,” said Steingart, “what program cuts you can live with and what ones you cannot.”