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Grand Island: Town budget of $29.1M is under tax cap

Sat, Nov 25th 2023 07:00 am

By Karen Carr Keefe

Senior Contributing Writer

The Town of Grand Island has finalized a $29.1 million budget for 2024 that comes in under the mandated state tax cap of 2%.

The tax levy was held to a 1.36% increase over the previous year, due in part to a fund balance of $5,537,564 that was carried over, leaving $11,955,450 to be raised by taxes.

The impact for homeowners can be explained in this example provided by Councilmember Tom Digati from the budget packet:

For a property with the average assessed value of $312,500 for a residence not within a sewer district, the 2024 budget calls for a tax bill increase of $15.48 for the year; for a residence with the same assessed value but within a sewer district, the impact is a decrease of $19.85 on the 2024 tax bill.

“I would say this is a very conservative budget, for the most part,” said Deputy Supervisor Peter Marston.

Digati said, “It was the lowest increase in the levy in over a decade.”

Marston said that “Just because it’s in the budget doesn’t mean we’re spending it. People need to remember that. We’re allotting for things that could potentially happen, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to.”

He added, “We did get a little more aggressive this year on our sales tax reporting, just because sales tax has been reported relatively low historically. But it’s always been trending up; it’s never really trended back. We definitely leveraged that a little bit harder than we normally do. We didn’t overdo it.”

Marston pointed out the cost of living “has gone up so much” that it’s still conservative to factor in an increase in sales tax revenue.

One area that represents a cutback is the amount appropriated for maintenance at Town Hall.

“Last year, we did a lot of maintenance on this building – HVAC – other things, so we have substantial line items in there for upgrades to Town Hall (in 2023), which we cut in half” for 2024 because now the work is completed, Marston said. “There were a couple of things that were in there that we decided not to pay for out of the budget; we decided to seek outside funding sources – grants.”

For example, he said, there are some upgrades, such as a proposed outdoor pavilion at the Golden Age Center, for which the town was well-positioned and qualified to seek grants for, rather than budgeting for them. The savings there could be as much as $70,000 to $80,000, he said.

The sewer district fund budget is one that is always troublesome, “because we are an island; we have our own sewer plant – it’s a little bit unique,” Marston said. There’s a need to do a certain amount of work per year. “It’s expensive work. It’s millions” to put pipes in the ground. “Our former town accountant always told us that ‘sewer debt is sewer tax.’ So the sewer department owes it. We borrow money to do any type of infrastructure work – that immediately goes to a tax. That’s the only way to pay for it.”

During Monday night’s meeting, the board set a public hearing for 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 4, on a proposal to raise the town’s sewer rates to $5.80 per 1,000 gallons of water. Marston said the move is prompted by the fact that the cost of doing business at the sewer plant has gone up. He said, “You need to change your sewer rates until you break even.”

A public hearing on the preliminary 2024 budget was held Nov. 9. There were no speakers at the public hearing. A motion was made and passed by the Town Board to adopt the preliminary budget as the final budget.

Some highlights of the summary of appropriations, tax levies and tax rates for the 2024 budget:

•General Fund Budget: The total appropriation: $11,177,934; amount to be raised by taxation (levy): $2,235,135; estimated tax rate per thousand: $0.991, which is a decrease of 0.4%.

•Sewer District Fund Budget: The total appropriation: $5,208,450; amount to be raised by taxation: $1,686,962; estimated tax rate per thousand (land value only): $5.318, a 10.5% decrease.

•Water District Fund Budget: Total appropriation: $4,401,732; amount to be raised by taxation: $1,171,520; estimated tax rate per thousand (land value only) $2.676, a 19.5% increase.

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