According to The Columbia Paper, HUDSON—The Columbia County 2023 budget, which the County Board of Supervisors adopted at its meeting December 14, appropriates $163.2 million to spend and calls for a 2% increase in the tax levy, to cover 27.3% of the appropriation.
Despite the total tax levy increase, “the average tax rate will decrease by 7.5%,” Board Chairman Matt Murell (R-Stockport) said in a cover letter to the budget. Because property values have increased, “the average tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value went from $5.35 to $4.95,” said County Controller Jim Breig and County Treasurer PJ Keeler on December 22. However they reminded taxpayers that “individual tax bills will vary depending on the town.”
A key feature of the 2023 budget is that it “contains all the salary increases required under the four respective collective bargaining agreements as well as raises for non-union employees and officers,” which Mr. Murell said in his cover letter. Some supervisors emphasized this as they discussed the budget December 14.
The steepest increase in specific appropriations from 2022 to 2023 is for the Sewer District, up 70% to $317,000 from $187,000. This increase is due to the first payments coming due on the bond used to finance the new sewer line along Route 66, Mr. Breig said. In 2022, the line was completed, and the bond payments were not yet due. In 2021, with construction still going on, the appropriation was $4.2 million.
Another increase from 2022 to 2023 is in the Water District, up 21% to $110,000 from $91,000. Utility costs are increasing, Mr. Breig and Mr. Keeler pointed out.
The supervisors’ vote to approve the budget was almost unanimous with the exception of Supervisor Raymond Staats (D-Clermont), who has voted against budgets with increased tax levies as a matter of principle.
“We cannot keep raising taxes. With gas and food prices the way they are, taxpayers need a break,” he said.
“I can understand that,” said Supervisor Ron Knott (R-Stuyvesant), “but we have an obligation to taxpayers to maintain our infrastructure, our roads and bridges.” By using the budget, Mr. Knott said, “we can repair a bridge in your community now, using cash on hand, rather than waiting five years for a government grant.”
A lot of the people struggling with higher prices are county employees, said Supervisor Tistrya Houghtling (D-New Lebanon) and the 2023 budget raises their wages and salaries. The price of everything is up, for the county too, not only for individuals she said, adding that the county must guard its reserve funds. If the economy goes bad and people buy less, the county will get less sales tax revenue. “I think the budget is responsible,” Supervisor Houghtling said.
“When you start to whittle down what we pay, at the end of the year there’s not a lot of extra money.’
Supervisor James Guzzi (D)
Town of Livingston
The 2023 tax levy is almost $900,000 more than in 2022. But Mr. Keeler noted, “There’s $10 million more in expenses this year than last year.”
Supervisor James Guzzi (D-Livingston) said, “When you start to whittle down what we pay, at the end of the year there’s not a lot of extra money.”
At the December 14 meeting Mr. Murell thanked the supervisors and the financial staff for their work on the budget. In his cover letter, he gave specific recognition to Mr. Keeler, Mr. Breig, Supervisor/Deputy Chairman Robert Lagonia (R-Austerlitz), Mr. Guzzi, Ms. Houghtling, Mr. Knott, Supervisor Richard Scalera (D-Hudson, 5th Ward), Supervisor Arthur Bassin (D-Ancram) and Human Resources Director Michaele Williams-Riordon.
In his cover letter, Mr. Murell notes that “no program maintained by the county has been eliminated and no services have been cut. No reduction in the work force has been planned. We continue to produce budgets that are in the best interest of all our residents. That includes the much-needed services of Mental Health, Social Services and Public Safety as well as maintenance of roads and bridges.
“It’s important to note that the stability of the county’s financial position has been the result of balanced budgeting, the implementation of cost controls, consolidations achieved through the Central Business Office, and other measures implemented by county department heads, together with the Board of Supervisors.”
COLUMBIA COUNTY BUDGET: 2023 COMPARED TO 2022
Chart by Jeanette Wolfberg*
More good budget news
COLUMBIA COUNTY Treasurer PJ Keeler announced late last year that Moody’s Investor Service recently released its Issuer Ratings and debt instrument, placing Columbia County near the top of their scoring. The ratings measured the financial condition of 1,104 United States cities and counties.
Moody’s outlook for Columbia remains at Aa3, reflecting the county’s continued strong financial condition.
Treasurer Keeler said the Aa3 rating has been assigned to Columbia County Public Improvement Bonds since 2013, resulting in discounted borrowing interest rates, which saves significant tax dollars over the life of the bonds.
The ratings involve the evaluation of several key factors such as the municipality’s economy, finances, and institutional management framework, leveraged together with other relevant considerations. They reflect a municipality’s ability to repay debt and debt-like obligations.