Clay Town Supervisor Reflects on Tough Tax Year

The town of Clay's supervisor, Damian M. Ulatowski, knows the town's residents may not be happy with the big bump in numbers they recently saw on their property tax bill, but he wants to make sure they're aware that the biggest hike came from Onondaga County, not the town of Clay.

"Residents across the state, particularly the town of Clay are charged school tax, they're charged county tax, they're charged town tax," he said. "All of those bills come out through the town so to the average resident, they're saying 'I've got this envelope from the town here, this must be a town tax,' but on those tax bills it's clearly delineated that there are portions of it that are town, portions of it that are county and portions of it that are school."

Clay's portion of the tax increased just about 10 percent, according to Ulatowski, while the county tax rose 53 percent.

The supervisor said he can't answer for Onondaga's 53-percent increase, but believes it's due to the county government no longer allowing a portion of sales tax to go to the towns.

Clay has made an effort to lessen its portion of the tax increase.

"We did trim budgets for highway," Ulatowski said. "We eliminated a lot of conferences that our employees normally go to for continuing education. We actually had to let three employees go, so we've made some substantial cuts, and I've not filled vacant positions from people who retired."

The three jobs that were cut were in the water, planning and highway departments.

Ulatowski cited payment of retirement benefits imposed by the state on the town, and employee benefit costs imposed by unions, as other sources of the tax hike.

"If [unions] want those kind of increases, and I can do nothing through contract negotiations to make them see otherwise, I got to pass those costs along or I got to let people go, which is what we did," he said.

The worst of the Clay's tax woes may be behind it though. Ulatowski is optimistic that the changes already made will make for an easier time of things for the town's residents down the road.

"Hopefully we've right-sized our government now to help mitigate future rate increases," he said. "I think we still run a very efficient town. I know that from a tax-rate perspective-actual cost of taxes-we're still the lowest in the county. I think we're doing a great job."

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