Ballston Journal Online Publisher Angela Mcfarland

Publisher’s Pen: The Devil is in the Milton $$ Details (updated 10/16/17 w/video)

Updated Monday, 10/16/17 1:46 p.m. with video statement from Town Supervisor Dan Lewza:

Here’s the scoop: the political machine is warming back up (only 5-ish weeks ’til the general election) and an article in the Times Union is being shared like wildfire on Facebook that paints a scary picture for the residents in the Town of Milton.  I have a surprise announcement at the end so make sure you stay with me on blog.

The story is here in case you missed it: http://m.timesunion.com/news/article/Milton-property-taxes-to-double-under-2018-budget-12268202.php?cmpid=fb-mobile

While the headline accurately states the tax rate may increase, the story is organized in a way that would lead you to believe your total tax bill would be much higher than the reality of the tax rate PER THOUSAND, on just the town property part.  And it’s being shared as if the sky were falling.

There is one item in the article disputed entirely by both Supervisor Dan Lewza and Deputy Highway Superintendent Jason Miller is the part that says “residents will pay twice as much for town services.”  Not true at all according to both men.  I’ll leave that to the TU to fix if it is indeed incorrect in any way.

You may have caught my quick video update in which I state “the devil is in the details,” a statement I stand by.  Here’s the math as it relates to tax rate, and all tentative:

–The current tax rate of 33 cents would jump to 66 cents PER THOUSAND of assessed value, for Village residents in the Town of Milton
–The current tax rate of 33 cents would jump to 82 cents PER THOUSAND of assessed value, for residents in the Town of Milton

While your total tax bill might be $1148.14, only $85.82 of that is your town property tax.  Which means, based on the formula above, your town property tax would become $169.62.

Not fun, I get it but not some huge, scary doubling of overall taxes.

There’s more examples in the handout from last night’s budget workship in the image to follow:

Budget Workshop 10.10.17

Budget Workshop handout 10.10.17

But wait…there’s more!  There’s really nothing to “unravel” involving the $411,000 error in the fund balance. It’s actually $411,475 and it’s one entry, a clerical error, much like accidentally recording a deposit twice by mistake in you checkbook.

Milton Town Budget Nov. 2016 page 2

Milton Town Budget Nov. 2016 page 2

This number represents real property tax, and was entered twice, two different spots in the whole document.  Which, in turn, led the town to use approximately $400k more per year out of their reserves than expected.  This number was double entered 2015, 2016, and 2017.  It was correct in 2014

Whose fault? Seems it was the former comptroller’s error however, in her defense, the budget and accounting practices were already a hot mess when she stepped in.  There are budget committee minutes dated Nov. 9, 2016 in which Julie expresses her dismay and was responded to by Highway Superintendent Dave Forbes and Town Councilwoman Barbara Kerr (Lewza had already left the meeting).

The solution is coming….just stick with me on this, one more piece of the puzzle.

Miller gave me something today that really brings clarity to the possibility of increasing the property tax rate, mentioned way up top.  Look at this tax chart:

Milton Sales Tax flowchart

Over the course of 17 years, the property tax rate is a fraction of where it began, expenses have continued to increase while Town sales tax revenues have only moderately increased.  The years of 2002 – 2011 are so arbitrary.

Councilwoman Kerr said budget cuts should go deeper.  Councilman Ostrander said taxes might have to go up.

Miller said it best when he asked me “would you rather save $5 off your taxes and be told no more leaf removal or would you likely pay the $20 just to keep that town service?”, when we were talking about the different views on the town board.

I have more to share but let’s put a pin in this for now.  Budgets are made from math and I encourage you to get out to the next workshop if you can.

Still with me? Good. Here’s the surprise announcement:  join me Monday, 9 a.m. for a Facebook Live with Supervisor Dan Lewza about the town budget, the mistake and the corrective action plans in the works.  No worries if you are unable to tune in, I’ll post it on the website later in the day.

As always, thanks for following and send me your questions.  I’ll do my best to get them answered.

Angela McFarland
Chief Creative Officer and Ad Whisperer 
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The statements and views expressed in the Publisher’s Pen are solely that of Angela McFarland and do not represent, or reflect, the opinions or views of The Ballston Journal Online LLC or NewzMedia Holdings LLC.

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