By Sarah Hall
Declining court revenues kept the town of Salina from easily accomplishing a flat tax rate in 2012, but that doesn’t mean the town board will stop trying.
At the public hearing for the 2012 budget Monday, Oct. 24, Salina Supervisor Mark Nicotra said that projected revenues from the town court next year were expected to fall short by about $100,000.
“That’s significant,” Nicotra said. “If they’d stayed the same, it would be no issue to get it to a flat tax rate. Due to the economy, that revenue has dropped off.”
In Nicotra’s preliminary budget, presented to the board Oct. 5, taxpayers in the town faced a $4.56 a year tax increase on a $100,000 home, a 1.5 percent increase over last year. In the village, homeowners in a $100,000 home faced a $4.68 increase. The original $9,418,326 budget calls for a continued hiring freeze on any new employees, uses a portion of the town’s fund balance to offset spending and includes a new and more favorable garbage contract that generated savings to the town over the previous contract.
“The garbage contract is a big deal,” Nicotra said. “That’s a huge savings over the previous five-year contract.”
Since the Oct. 5 meeting, the initial budget has been trimmed down somewhat. The parks and recreation director has agreed to use funds leftover in his 2011 budget to purchase equipment he had requested for next year, thus saving money from the 2012 budget. Three employees will retire from the highway department at the end of this year and the board has agreed to leave two of those positions empty. Finally, the town has agreed to close the town pools at 6 p.m. this summer instead of 8 p.m., generating a savings of about $26,000; Nicotra said the pools are hardly used those last two hours of the evening, so it will not present a hardship to town residents.
“It’s mostly a little nip here, a little tuck there,” he said. “We’re trimming wherever we can to try to get it down to a flat tax rate.”
Board members pointed out that it was difficult to further pare down the budget, as Nicotra had presented a very tight budget from the start.
“It’s pretty tight,” First Ward Councilor Colleen Gunnip said. “The supervisor did a great job holding all the department heads to the level with the tax cap and even below that.”
Second Ward Councilor Jim Magnarelli agreed.
“The department heads did have all of their budgets slashed last year,” he said. “[The only increases were things] beyond their control – the wages, we got hit with health care increases, but they did their best to offset those increases. We do have some more work to do, and we’re going to look at these numbers again to try to bring it down further.”
At this point, residents in the town outside the village are facing a $5.42 increase; inside the village, residents face a $3 increase.
Resident Christine Slocum was the sole resident to speak at the budget public hearing. She questioned why the board was asking voters to approve the $6 million purchase of the Burdick property on Old Liverpool Road for a new town hall and highway facility while trying to cut costs.
“You mentioned that you’re not filling positions,” Slocum said. “I’m just wondering if it’s a great idea to go ahead and do what you’re doing if you’re trying to lessen the town costs. What would be the point of going ahead and redoing Bresee Chevrolet for those purposes if we’re trying to keep costs down at the town level?”
The public hearing was closed and members of the board said they would continue to try to trim the budget to get the tax rate down.
Nicotra said, no matter what, taxpayers in the town should be pleased with the budget.
“There may be an increase in the actual town tax, but we’ve worked really hard to keep costs down,” he said. “The people in Salina should be happy with it.”
The final budget must be approved by Nov. 20.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.