Harrietstown budget expected to be under tax cap

SARANAC LAKE – Town of Harrietstown officials will have to cut about $70,000 from the tentative town budget for the next fiscal year to bring the proposed tax levy increase below the state’s cap.

Filed last week by town Budget Officer Mike Kilroy, the tentative 2014 budget contains $4,853,353 in spending, an increase of 4.5 percent or $207,374 over this year. However, those numbers are based on the “wish lists” provided by town department heads and will likely be cut as the town board moves through the budget process, Kilroy said.

The tax levy in the tentative budget is $2,394,481, an increase of 20 percent or $406,573 over the current levy, but that doesn’t include any appropriation from the town’s reserves, which is typically done each year to keep the tax levy in check. Last year, the town used $273,500 of its fund balance to lower the levy.

Kilroy said he recommends the board use $297,500 in savings this year. If that happens, the board would have to find about $70,000 to cut from the budget to get under the state tax levy limit for the town, which Kilroy estimates will be 2.1 percent.

“I don’t see any problem finding $70,000,” Kilroy said. “We won’t have to override the cap; let’s put it that way. There’s no problems for Harrietstown.”

Some of the bigger increases in the tentative budget are tied to the pending town takeover of the Harrietstown portion of village court, which will dissolve in April of next year. The salary of the town’s two justices would increase from $8,456 each to $19,857 each. Only one of those positions is currently filled, by Kenneth McLaughlin, following the August resignation of Howard Riley, and no one has filed petitions to run for the vacancy in the November election. The town court clerk’s salary would double from $18,465 to $36,926.

Whether the board approves those pay increases remains to be seen, Kilroy said.

“My guess is they’re going to cut it back,” he said. “Maybe they’ll give the justices $15,000 each.”

Some of the increases in court-related expenses could be covered by an expected increase in fine revenue from the village cases. The tentative budget includes an $11,500 increase in revenue from fines and forfeited bail, which Kilroy said is a conservative estimate.

Next year’s budget also includes an expected $40,000 payment on a $330,000 loan the town is taking out to replace a retaining wall behind the Harrietstown Town Hall that was undermined in the spring 2011 floods. The town is expecting to cover that expense with a payment of roughly $45,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The tentative Highway Department budget is up roughly $40,000. Highway Superintendent Craig Donaldson has asked for another $10,000 for road projects and another $10,000 in his equipment reserve account. Kilroy said those are requests the board may cut to whittle down.

Other proposals that may be on the chopping block, Kilroy said, include an additional $20,000 for the town-run Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear to hire a part-time employee to cover the facility when Manager Corey Hurwitch is off or not available.

“The (Federal Aviation Administration) says you have to have some kind of administrator or manager at the airport at all times,” Kilroy said.

Hurwitch is also asking to raise the airport’s marketing budget from $4,000 to $25,000. Overall spending at the airport would increase $38,837, from $2,361,045 to $2,393,882. On the revenue side, Hurwitch is budgeting $1,375,000 in profits from sale of aviation fuel in 2014, the same amount that was budgeted this year.

The budget, as it stands, includes no pay hikes for any elected official or employee, except for the justices and court clerk. Kilroy said that’s because the town is still negotiating with the union representing its Highway Department employees. He said town employees could get cost-of-living increases of between 1.7 and 2 percent.

For once, employee health insurance costs aren’t expected to rise much next year. Kilroy said the town’s human resources consultant “doesn’t foresee the rates increasing.”

There are no changes proposed to the stipends the town provides to outside organizations like the Saranac Lake Youth Center and the Saranac Lake Civic Center, with one exception: An additional $1,500 was set aside for the Saranac Lake Youth Baseball and Softball Association.

The town is expecting more revenue in franchise fees from Time Warner Cable next year. Kilroy said that’s because the town discovered it was only getting a 3 percent commission from Time Warner’s sales while other local municipalities were getting 5 percent. The cable company was made aware of the discrepancy and has been paying the town back. The town has collected $55,000 already this year in franchise fees, well above the $15,000 that was budgeted.

Town Clerk Patricia Gillmett said she expects the board will schedule work sessions on the budget in the next seven to 10 days. A public hearing on the spending plan has to be held by the last Thursday before Election Day, Nov. 5, and the budget has to be adopted by Nov. 20.

Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or