BALLSTON SPA – Television news and local media gathered at Ballston Spa’s VFW Post 358 on April 9 anticipating chaos due to the proposed 25.9 percent village tax hike.
In a meeting that lasted over two hours, village Mayor John Romano assured a crowd of over 50 attendees that the total tax increase put forth by the village treasurer is not a likely figure.
Mayor Romano told the media prior to the meeting that he believes the tax increase will be closer to “10 to 12 percent,” which is still double the average yearly tax increase.
“My goal is to try to bring it down,” Romano said. “It shouldn’t result in a deficit … that’s my goal, I can’t say how the board will vote. I’m only one person of a five-person board. They may decide to go higher.”
The board will be meeting over the coming weeks with representatives from local services including the police and fire departments, as well as the library, all of which have increased operating costs scheduled in the coming fiscal year.
“Nothing will be decided tonight,” Romano said. “But like all of you are aware, our village and other municipalities across the state are facing challenging times. Revenue sources are flat or stagnant. The cost of doing business, in the private and public sector, is rapidly rising. Expenses are devouring municipal budgets.”
The mayor repeated his comments from the prior board meeting about the burden of unfunded state mandates, the state tax cap, and the village’s inability to raise taxes sooner to keep pace with rising costs.
Efforts to renegotiate contracts for shared services, including fire protection and water provided to surrounding municipalities are still ongoing.
Mayor Romano insisted that any increased revenue from fire protection would be reinvested into the fire department.
Several other additional revenue sources that could potentially be implemented were discussed by the board but flailed as nothing more than hypotheticals.
Village Trustee Noah Shaw reiterated a prepared speech from the March 26 board meeting, where he criticized the board’s failure to solve the community’s budgeting failures, again calling it a “head in the sand” budget.
“I feel like this budget has been treated as though it’s just a matter of moving numbers around on a spreadsheet until revenues match expenditures,” Shaw said, “and once you get to even, then you don’t have to think any more … The Saratoga County economy is the best in the state. There is no reason we can’t be riding that wave.”
Criticism of Christopher Hickey, the village’s treasurer who did not attend the two budget meetings, was consistently met with applause during public discussion.
Michelle Burlingame expressed concern with the treasurer and his inability to attend the meetings.
“I don’t believe [attendance] is in the job description,” Romano responded.
“I feel like that’s maybe lacking a little bit,” Burlingame said. “He’s the one, like you said, that knows it better than anyone else … he knew that this was happening tonight and that the budget was being discussed.”
“People are getting stuck on whether the guy is here or not,” Shaw also rebutted, “the most important part is that the [treasurer] of this [village] is coming up with good ideas to solve the problems.”
A phone message left for Hickey was not returned as of press time.
The re-assessment of property was the most disagreed upon topic raised during the meeting.
“I don’t know if a re-assessment would generate more sales tax or not,” Romano admitted. “One thing I can guarantee, if we do a reassessment, it will be a significant out-of-pocket expense for the village to hire a professional person to do the re-evaluation … the village will have to hire a legal counsel to fend against the many tax claims and lawsuits.”
The eight future meetings between the board members and local services will likely determine whether residents avoid the proposed tax increase.
Mark Blech argued that the increase isn’t large enough to justify the outrage.
“The increase of 26 percent isn’t that much that we should think about cutting our services.”
For a home worth $180,000 the tax increase for the property owner would increase roughly $140 annually.
Mayor Romano assured the crowd that the “meat and potatoes” of the village’s budget decisions would take place through the eight future board meetings scheduled over the next three weeks.
The complete schedule of budget workshops is found here https://villageofballstonspa.org/images/Budget_Workshops_at_Village_Office.pdf Open to the public however, the workshops are for the board and department head interaction; public comment is not allowed.
EDITOR’S NOTE Video is bBest with headphones, poor audio quality:
Mayor John Romano recap of the current budget and numbers ( – 26:45)
Trustee Noah Shaw response to Mayor Romano (26:45 – 43:11)
Trustee Bob Cavanaugh presentation about Department of Public Works (43:16 – 49:20)
Trustee Shawn Raymond echoes Shaw’s comments (49:26 – 54:19)
Mayor Romano follow-up comments to board and public (54:25 – 1:03:27)
Public comments (1:03:45 – 2:05:29)
Mayor Romano closing comments (2:06:30 – 2:09:15)
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