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Potsdam preparing 2014 budget; many taxpayers will pay more

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POTSDAM — Budget season has returned to Potsdam. The Town Council held the first of several budget meetings Thursday to hash out its finances for 2014.

The tentative $1.04 million general fund budget would come with a property tax rate of $1.088 per $1,000 of assessed value. This is only a penny more than last year, but it would bring in more than $67,000 more in revenue.

The additional money would come from a bigger tax base. The total value of all property in the town is now set at $528.8 million, 11.5 percent more than 2013, because of a controversial townwide reassessment conducted earlier this year. This means that despite the small rate increase, most property owners would end up paying more.

The increase in tax revenue would help cover an increase in contractually mandated raises for town employees.

Councilman Michael J. Zagrobelny said some taxpayers falsely believed tax rates were required to drop if the total tax base increased, despite his warnings to the contrary.

“We discussed it in this room. People can’t count on the fact that if the reval went up that the tax rates are going to drop,” he said.

Everything is still tentative until the budget is finalized later this year.

On Thursday board members approved a resolution allowing the town to exceed the state’s 2 percent property tax cap, although they assured that this was merely a formality. Barring an unforeseen financial problem, the tax rate should remain well under the state-mandated cap.

Board members also focused on the water, sewer and highway budgets, which are separate from the general fund. The highway budget is slightly smaller than last year’s, because the past few years have seen the town purchasing necessary expensive equipment.

The highway tax rate would be $1.20 per $1,000, the same as in 2013.

Only a few dozen people in Unionville receive water and sewer from the town. They will pay a rate of $12.77, six cents less than last year.

The board will meet again at 6 p.m. Oct. 22 to discuss the general fund and the budget for those living in the town outside the villages. A final public meeting will be Nov. 7 before the budget is finalized.

The biggest question mark this year is the town’s recreation program. The town and village will continue jointly funding recreation until the end of 2014, but what will happen after that is unclear. The town plans to take sole control of the program in 2015, but this change would be subject to a petition, which could lead to a townwide referendum.

Town Supervisor Marie C. Regan said she has received several complaints about the plan already. “I’m expecting that we’re going to get a referendum,” she said.

If the plan fails, it will be up to the village to consider whether to keep funding half of the recreation program. If it does, the town will owe its share at the end of 2014, leading to questions about how to handle next year’s budget.

Town and village officials will meet soon to discuss the matter.

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