By Jann Wiswall
The Mansfield board passed a resolution to override the NY State tax levy limit, which gives the town the ability, if it chooses, to propose a 2017 budget that exceeds the state’s recommended 2 percent tax cap.
While this has been referred to as a 2 percent cap, after adjusting for the Consumer Price Index, it is in reality a 0.68 percent cap in the 2017 fiscal year, according to State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
The board passed the largely administrative action following a public hearing on the matter. There were no comments from the public. The roll call vote to pass the resolution was 4-1; board member Greg Meyer voted “nay.”
The board also passed a local resolution put forth by the Cattaraugus County that qualifies certain income-qualified senior citizens for partial property tax exemptions. That resolution also passed by a roll-call vote of 4-1 after a public hearing; Meyer voted against the measure.
The board was unanimous, however, in agreeing that the 2017 budget must exceed the .68 percent tax cap.
As reported at the August board meeting, Town Supervisor Bob Keis noted that the entire budget for the town and highway department is about $1.1 million, and only a little over half of those revenues come from property taxes. A .68 percent tax increase would yield only $3,000 or $4,000 in new revenues.
That will not even cover increases in employee health insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, highway department materials or other costs that are out of the town’s control. At the same time, 2016 has seen lower revenues from sales taxes, mortgage taxes and other sources.
A bigger challenge, Keis explained, is the need to address the state’s assessment of the municipality as being “fiscally stressed.” This comes from the fact that the town does not have the recommended 15-20 percent of its budget in a fund balance. With a $1.1 million budget, the state recommends having $165,000-$220,000 in the bank.
Mansfield currently has only about $10,000 in the fund balance.
The town’s low fund balance is due to a number of factors, most notably the long- and short-term expenses incurred as a result of the 2012 highway barn fire, but also the fact that the town has kept its effective tax rate low in the hopes that HoliMont’s WestMont Ridge would have generated new property tax revenues by now.
The 2016 tax rate in the town of Mansfield is $4.73/$1,000 in property value. A resident whose home is assessed at $100,000 paid $473 in taxes to Mansfield in 2016. For 2017, the board is proposing to increase the rate to $5.10/$1000, a 7.8 percent increase. If approved, that same resident will pay $510 ($37 more) in 2017.
The increase will boost revenues by $54,000 to the town, which will make up for the lost sales and mortgage tax revenues, increase the fund balance by $10,000, provide a 1 percent salary increase for some town employees and cover inflationary cost increases for materials and supplies.
Keis originally proposed a 3 percent salary increase for the Highway Superintendent in an effort to get his salary more in line with neighboring municipalities’ superintendents. Some board members felt that, with a significant tax increase, “this is not the year to give 3 percent.” Others pointed out that the actual dollars are an insignificant portion of the whole. The board finally agreed on a 1.5 percent increase – a difference of about $800.
Board members also looked at the possibility of eliminating the town’s $1,500 annual contribution to the Little Valley pool, which allows Mansfield residents to swim for free. There was also a suggestion from one board member to eliminate or reduce the town’s $1,000 annual contributions to each of the Little Valley and Ellicottville libraries.
Several members asked Keis to research how many residents actually use the pool benefit. Most members agreed that the library contributions should not be adjusted.
While the board will continue to look for savings over the next month, it was decided that the tentative budget can be presented to residents as the preliminary budget with minor adjustments.
A public hearing on the budget will be held at the next meeting scheduled for Monday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. in the town hall.