By Jann Wiswall
Following a public hearing, the Town of Mansfield’s board unanimously approved a 2017 budget that increases the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed property value from $4.73 to $5.10, a 7.8 percent increase.
This is the first time the Mansfield tax rate has been above $5/$1,000 since 2008.
Residents whose homes are assessed at $100,000 should expect a tax bill of about $510 in 2017, a $37 increase over 2016.
As reported after last month’s board meeting, the boost is necessary in order to cover increases in employee health insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, highway department materials and other costs that are out of the town’s control. The town also must make up the difference from lower sales tax receipts, mortgage taxes and other revenue sources that came in under projections primarily due to last year’s mild winter.
More critically, Town Supervisor Bob Keis noted, the board had to address the state’s characterization of Mansfield as being “fiscally stressed.”
According to the State Comptroller’s Office, municipalities should carry 15-20 percent of its budget total in a fund balance, which is essentially a town’s or village’s savings account.
With a $1.1 million budget, the state recommends that Mansfield should have $165,000-$220,000 in the bank. Mansfield will end 2016 with 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 for many years in the hopes that HoliMont’s WestMont Ridge would have generated new property tax revenues by now.
The tax increase will generate an additional $54,000 to make up for the lower revenues, provide a 1-1.5 percent salary increase for certain town employees, cover inflationary cost increases for materials and supplies and increase the fund balance by $10,000.
Town resident Todd Dunkleman attended the hearing and reviewed the preliminary budget as presented. He said he saw no real problems, noting that the supervisor and town board “always do a good job,” but asked if the cost of maintaining and operating the town’s three buildings was high given that two of them are relatively new.
Keis noted that the board has budgeted for a new roof and siding repairs/improvements for the town’s historical society building in Eddyville, which are in poor condition. He also noted that heating the buildings costs $15-20,000 per year.
The total budget for 2017 building maintenance/operations remained at the 2016 level of $45,000.
Dunkleman also asked if the town is prepared for highway department vehicle replacements. Keis and Highway Superintendent Brad Hurley said they don’t expect to replace any vehicles in 2017. Going forward, Hurley said the department’s fleet should age out at different times, which should ensure that the town will not need to replace multiple vehicles at once. In addition, Keis pointed out that a vehicle loan cost of $50,000 will be paid off in 2018, freeing up those funds for vehicle replacements.
Dunkleman also asked that the town publicize the fact that Mansfield residents have access to the Little Valley public pool. He said he and other residents he had spoken with didn’t know about that benefit and suggested that a periodic newsletter be mailed to residents to inform them about that and other benefits and services.
Finally, he said that he hopes “Mansfield taxes don’t go up like they did in Ellicottville.” He said he moved from Ellicottville years ago because of taxes and doesn’t “ever want to have to leave Mansfield” for the same reason.
Keis pointed out that almost every surrounding town has a tax rate nearly double (or more) Mansfield’s 2017 rate, and he and the board are determined to keep rates low.
In other business, Keis reported that the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets had audited the town’s dog control service and shelter and that both were rated “satisfactory,” the highest rating.
Hurley reported that all of the highway repairs that were funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) following damage caused by spring 2014 storms are now complete, as is all of the related paperwork.
The next meeting of the Mansfield board is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. in the town hall. All are welcome.