Colonie res­i­dents un­happy as taxes rise

5.48 per­cent in­crease 2% above the state-im­posed cap

Albany Times Union - - FRONT PAGE - By Mal­lory Moench

Tax­pay­ers in the re­gion’s big­gest town say de­vel­op­ers are get­ting a bet­ter deal than home­own­ers. Town of­fi­cials dis­pute that.

The Town Board voted 6-1 Thurs­day to adopt a 2019 bud­get that raises taxes above the state-im­posed cap, with Repub­li­can Board Mem­ber Jen­nifer Whalen the only no vote.

The two-and-a-half-hour pub­lic hear­ing be­fore the vote pit­ted town of­fi­cials against mem­bers of ad­vo­cacy group SAVE Colonie and other res­i­dents ques­tion­ing how tax­pay­ers prof­ited from de­vel­op­ment, how to deal with debt ser­vice and a lack of open-space fund­ing. Lawrence Fred­er­icks, who has lived in the town for 30 years, asked why tax­pay­ers were pay­ing more while de­vel­op­ers were get­ting in­cen­tives and ex­emp­tions for an al­ready de­sir­able lo­ca­tion.

“Why are we giv­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in tax in­cen­tives and then later the same year say, ‘By the way, you get to shoul­der the bur­den?’” Fred­er­icks said. “Maybe it’s time for all the towns and all the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to stop play­ing that game and ei­ther have a sit­u­a­tion that is at­trac­tive to ev­ery­one or no one.”

Town Su­per­vi­sor Paula Ma­han de­nied that de­vel­op­ers get pref­er­en­tial treat­ment.

“We try to come up with the fairest bud­get,” Ma­han said. “We don’t play shell games, and we won’t play shell games.”

Ma­han said that while other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties might add in spe­cial dis­tricts or

fees to in­crease rev­enue, Colonie chose to in­stead raise taxes as an in­clu­sive cost. She ex­plained the town ben­e­fits from de­vel­op­ment through some tax in­come, sales tax rev­enue and ameni­ties for res­i­dents.

“Ev­ery year, we give up every­thing we pos­si­bly could, but we have to be re­al­is­tic. Things go up quite a bit,” she said. “No­body likes in­creases.”

Next year’s bud­get in­creases taxes by 5.48 per­cent — 2 per­cent above the state-im­posed cap. For home­own­ers, taxes will rise from $3.72 to $3.90 per $1,000 of as­sessed tax­able value. The owner of an av­er­age house — with a mar­ket value of $225,000 and a tax as­sess­ment of $145,000 — can ex­pect to pay $29.20 more in taxes next year, or about $2.43 more per month.

The ma­jor bud­get driver was con­trac­tual raises for town em­ploy­ees af­ter unions ac­cepted salary freezes for 2017 and 2018 in ex­change for 2.0 to 2.5 per­cent raises in 2019 and 2020.

The bud­get ac­counts for $1.7 mil­lion in raises and the same amount in ben­e­fits. The other big cost in pub­lic safety was adding a school re­source of­fi­cer at North Colonie High School.

Board Mem­ber Linda J. Mur­phy said the bud­get was “as gen­tle of an in­crease as it could be.” Board Mem­ber Jen­nifer Whalen, who voted no, pre­vi­ously told the Times Union that she wanted to look harder at what could be cut from the bud­get in or­der to not raise taxes.

One res­i­dent raised con­cerns Thurs­day about an in­crease in debt ser­vice, up to $1.5 mil­lion.

Act­ing Comptroller Chris Kelsey said it was mostly for wa­ter and sewage in­fra­struc­ture and ren­o­va­tions for the li­brary. Ma­han said the town was bor­row­ing no more than 12 per­cent of what it was al­lowed to by law.

“We’re not in a bind. We con­tinue to move up in our po­si­tion fi­nan­cially,” Ma­han said. “We have in­vested mil­lions in in­fra­struc­ture projects, and we will con­tinue to do that in or­der to pre­pare for the fu­ture, so we don’t have every­thing fall­ing apart at once.”

In ad­di­tion to push­back against how de­vel­op­ment bur­dens tax­pay­ers, a row of res­i­dents from SAVE Colonie ques­tioned why there was no more money set aside for an open space fund.

Town of­fi­cials said they were in­vest­ing in a hy­dro­elec­tric

plant and con­sid­er­ing sell­ing the town’s wa­ter re­serve plant in Clifton Park with an ac­com­pa­ny­ing 1,000 acres. Su­san We­ber from SAVE Colonie rec­om­mended putting the money from the sale into an open space fund, which was laid out in the town’s 2005 com­pre­hen­sive plan but hasn’t been ad­e­quately funded.

Ma­han re­sponded that the 2005 plan was a rec­om­men­da­tion, not a man­date.

Kelsey said the town’s open space fund only in the past six months has had enough money to look at pur­chas­ing a plot of land. Ma­han coun­tered that the town al­ready has more than 1,000 acres of open space and has also re­cently bought or ren­o­vated parks.

She said it was too ex­pen­sive to bud­get in more open space funds for next year.

While res­i­dents crit­i­cized what they call rapid de­vel­op­ment, Town At­tor­ney Michael Mag­guilli said the rate of growth is lower than was pro­jected in the 2005 com­pre­hen­sive plan.

Some res­i­dents are still not happy with the town’s pri­or­i­ties, but for next year’s bud­get, they’ll now have to live with them.

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