LAKE PLACID - A $7 million North Elba town budget was passed Tuesday night with a 2.02 percent tax levy increase, just meeting the town's state-imposed tax cap.
Town Supervisor Roby Politi had said in October that the town was unlikely to get under the tax cap, but he said hard work over a solid month, including meetings with every town department head, paid off.
There will be some shifting in tax rates, with town residents outside the villages of Lake Placid and Saranac?Lake paying more and village residents seeing a drop. The change is due to two expense lines: the town's $40,000 contribution to the Lake Placid village trolley and the town's $24,510 share of the Mirror Lake Beach expenses. They're being moved to a town-outside-the-village fund so village residents won't be taxed by both the village and the town on those items.
Lake Placid village residents would pay $1.36 per $1,000 in assessed property value, down 4.23 percent over the current year, and Saranac Lake village residents would pay 51 cents per $1,000, down 12.07 percent.
Town residents outside the villages in Fire District 3 are likely to see a 6.13 percent increase in their tax rate, paying $2.25 per $1,000 in assessed property value in 2014. In Fire District 1, property owners would pay $2.21 in assessed property value, up 4.74 percent. And in Ray Brook, Fire District 2, residents would pay $2.68 per $1,000 in assessed property value, up 1.9 percent.
Town Budget Officer Cathy Gregory noted that those tax rates are estimates, but she's never seen Essex County send back the tax rates any different from what she sent in, so they will likely be accurate.
Total spending in all areas of the budget is $7,081,275, with $2,680,254 coming from non-property-tax revenue. The total tax levy is $4,063,020.
The originally proposed 2014 budget would have exceeded the tax levy cap by $644,003, but the town was able to keep the increase to about $80,000, according to a presentation Gregory gave during the budget hearing Tuesday night.
That value was reached by cutting out requested spending like the hire of a $20,000 part-time code enforcement officer and the purchase of a new dump/plow truck, which may be funded later through bonding. Gregory also adjusted health and medical insurance and retirement expenses to come in about $61,000 lower, and she increased anticipated mortgage and sales tax revenue by $35,000.
More than $300,000 of the town's fund balances are being used to lower the tax levy. Of that, $100,000 comes from the general fund, and more than $200,000 comes from the highway fund, which Politi said is mainly sales tax revenue that has accumulated there.
Politi noted that's better than the $600,000 of fund balance the town used last year to offset taxes.
Politi said it's becoming harder for towns and counties to meet the tax cap. It ends up being a choice of whether to use fund balance, cut jobs or cut services, he said.
"That was the battle for us, the challenge this year," he said.
The town had also scheduled a hearing Tuesday to override the tax cap, but it turned out to be unnecessary, so it was canceled.