by Susan Mikula Campbell
Members of the Town of Niagara Town Board received a tentative budget of $7.063 million for 2012 from Supervisor Steve Richards on Monday.
"You've got your work cut out for you this year," Richards warned his board, noting that the new state property tax cap rule is putting municipalities across the state in an impossible situation.
"I'm already on Page 44, and I don't see anything (to cut)," Councilman Robert Clark said as the short meeting ended.
The board began a series of meetings on Tuesday to go over the budget line by line and meet with department heads. A final budget is expected to be approved by Nov. 15.
Richard's 2012 budget actually is less than the current 2011 budget of $7.336 million.
The state imposed tax cap is 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less, Richards said. That means the town has to cap any tax increase at about 1 percent.
Richards said his budget leaves only $2,142.80 for board members to play with before meeting the cap. He noted that sales tax revenues are down, 3 percent wage increases are contracted for union employees and firm figures are not in yet for medical costs and workmen's compensation costs. To add anything to the budget, the board will have to offset the spending with something else or reduce the town's workforce, he said.
The Town of Niagara has a two-tier tax system. Richard's budget would reduce the homeowner rate by 9 cents per $1,000 assessed value, or 1.8 percent. The non-homeowner rate (business or multiple dwelling units) would go up 42 cents per $1,000 assessed value or 4.8 percent, although Richards said he is hoping to pare that down to 3 percent by the time a final budget is approved.
Richards said the general fund portion of the budget is currently totally funded by sales tax revenues. He is predicting the town will need a tax in that category in about two years.
At its September meeting, the Town Board scheduled a public hearing for 7 p.m. Oct. 18, prior to its regular meeting, on a local law that would allow the town to override the tax cap limit if needed.
Richards said the biggest problem for overburdened taxpayers in New York state is not town taxes.
"The biggest problem is New York City and state government, and they don't get a cap," he said. "They are the reason we need a cap."