Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Dryden Town Budget

(Cross posted from my personal blog, Five Wells.)

Last Friday's Dryden Town Board budget workshop was interesting. Honestly. Members of the Board were cordial to Simon and me - the only representatives of the public present. The clerk was kind enough to get a copy of the preliminary copy of the budget for us - all 86 pages of it. I've had a chance, over the weekend, to condense those 86 pages to 10 more meaningful ones. I've been in touch with Supervisor Trumbull with some questions, but here are a few salient points.

1. Total expenses budgeted (about $6.5 M) remain nearly the same as expenses budgeted in 2005.

2. Revenue includes:

  • Property taxes (about $2.5 M): budgeted to increase as a function of increased assessments and tax rate remaining constant.
  • Other income (about $2.5 M), including: sales tax (budgeted at the same level as 2005), state aid (increasing 15%), interest income (increasing)

The gap between total expenses and the total of property tax and other income is covered from the substantial surplus remaining from prior years. The surplus has accumulated apparently as a result of a generous contingency line item and apparently years of spending less than is taken in. And here a quiet debate begins. Should we continue budgeting for a surplus?

Dryden Town taxes, a small fraction of total property taxes, have declined steadily in the past decade. According to figures provided by the Tompkins County Board, the Dryden town tax rate has declined from 2.65% in 1995 to a projected 1.5% in 2006. The tax levy (the total amount raised through property taxes) has declined from 1,311,451 in 1995 to $914,240 in 2005 despite rising assesments. The surplus occurs as a result of either increased other income or increased control of expenses.

Should we decrease the tax rate and stop accumulating a surplus? Should we apply the surplus to increased town services? Or are we happy to continue accumulating a surplus? A public hearing is scheduled for October 27, 2005 at 7:00 PM in the Town Hall. Try to find out all you can about the budget before then so that time at the hearing will be well spent.

Next week I'll try to look at what may be the larger issue: assessments - up 25% since 1995. Or School taxes: about 90% of the Town of Dryden is in the Dryden School District where the tax rate is up from about 16.8% in 1995 to 22.1% in 2005 on top of the increased assessments.


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