Colonie residents unhappy as taxes rise
5.48 percent increase 2% above the state-imposed cap
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.