By Kate Bunster
NISKAYUNA — Under the tentative town budget being considered for 2016, the property tax levy would increase slightly less than 2 percent, resulting in a net tax increase — after a state rebate is factored in — of $37 on the average Niskayuna house.
The tax rate is now $2.55 per $1,000 of assessed value and would increase to $2.65 under the budget plan. The average one-family house in Niskayuna is assessed at $274,400, and under the proposed budget its owner would pay $726.10 in town property taxes in 2016, compared with $698.70 in 2015. That is a 3.89 percent increase before the rebate.
The town would come within $55 of exceeding the tax cap with its $14.5 million 2016 budget — according to the Office of the State Comptroller, the yearly limit for 2016 came to $225,455 for Niskayuna and the tentative town budget would increase spending by $225,400. The 2015 budget totaled $14.2 million.
Still, that’s good enough to qualify for the state rebate program, now in its second year.
The New York State Real Property Tax Cap required local governments to stay under a 2 percent tax cap in year one. In year two, they are required to comply with the 2 percent tax cap and also submit an efficiency plan to “achieve saving for taxpayers exceeding 1 percent of the total town tax levy.”
The 2016 budget proposal carries a 1.89 percent property tax increase, meeting the first requirement for the rebate. According to Town Supervisor Joe Landry, shutting down the town emergency dispatch center and switching to the county Unified Communications Center was a qualifying efficiency for Niskayuna for 2016, thus meeting the second requirement.
So taxpayers will get a $8.56 rebate on their property taxes and a smaller additional amount depending on what special taxing districts they live in.
One thing Landry says he wants to focus on in the upcoming year is making capital improvements, such as replacing water mains and valves, paving the highways, and improving the water and sewer maintenance facility. In addition, he wants to comply with the tax cap, continue infrastructure investment, address emerging community issues and maintain a AA+ bond rating. To do this, the town will spend $40,000 of its reserve funds, which is less than 2 percent of the $2.5 million total in reserve.
“Creating the budget is a very comprehensive process,” said Landry, noting all the factors considered when drawing it up. Contractual salary increases and employee benefit costs were a major part of the increased spending.
According to Landry, the town pays over $2 million in health insurance premiums. “We’re a community-rated plan so whatever the health insurance companies want to charge us, they can,” he said.
According to town Comptroller Paul Sebesta, one of the contributing factors to the 8 percent increase in health insurance premiums this year is an error made by MVP Health Care last year. After the budget was drawn up, MVP raised the increase by 4 percentage points from the projected total.
“This is having a 1-1/2 year affect on us,” he said. “Sometimes there’s some maneuvers they [MVP] do to get a higher increase and last year they stalled.”
One of the board members who spoke up about this was Julie M. McDonnell. “Are they going to do that again?” she asked at the Sept. 29 budget workshop. Sebesta said it won’t happen again this year, as the number is set in stone.
The town will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, at Town Hall. A meeting to adopt the budget will be the following week, Thursday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m.
By Kate Bunster