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Clermont Super. votes no against 1.82 percent tax levy increase in County budget

The Columbia County Board of Supervisors holding a public hearing on the 2018 county budget Dec. 13. The Board passed the budget that night without support from Clermont Town Supervisor Ray Staats who could not support raising taxes when it is not necessary to balance the budget.
December 27, 2017 04:57 pm

HUDSON — The Columbia County Board of Supervisors passed the county’s 2018 budget with all but one vote from a supervisor who said he believes the county should not raise taxes if the budget is balanced without it.

The Board passed the $150 million county budget following a public hearing held at its full board meeting Dec. 13, but Clermont Town Supervisor Ray Staats voted against the budget, saying he couldn’t condone the county raising taxes at all when it is not necessary this year to balance the budget.

“I am against raising taxes when we are on budget,” Staats said. “We cannot keep passing a tax increase in the budget.”

The tax levy for 2018 will be $45 million, up $802,719, or 1.82 percent from last year, which falls just under the state tax cap of 1.84 percent.

Staats said the money raised by taxes for a neutral budget would go into the fund balance. He said that is unacceptable.

“We are not going to use the fund balance and that is unacceptable,” Staats said. “We can’t keep doing the same old same old.”

“With what we are looking to spend down the road with [Columbia-Greene Community College] we are going to need that fund balance,” said County Controller Ron Caponera, referring to the college’s $20 million capital project, to which the county committed $5 million.

The 2018 budget includes $2,490 toward covering students’ tuition at the college and $2,495 as a contribution to the college’s capital project.

“We need that money for the college,” said Hudson Supervisor William Hughes, D-4. “The college is very important to the progress of the county.”

Staats also argued that the county employs too many people. “We should not be the No. 1 employer in the county.”

County Board Chairman Matt Murell said the county consolidated several positions, but Staats went a step further by saying the county consolidated several positions but ended up with more in the end.

Caponera said a lot of the tax increases over the years based on full-time equivalency data — data that shows county employees’ hours as a full-time pay by department — were from paying for employees at Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Home in Philmont, which the county sold.

“The sale of Pine Haven greatly reduced our budget,” Caponera said.

“But we are still raising taxes,” Staats said.

Hughes, before he leaves office as a supervisor and minority leader on the County Board, warned county officials to find other ways to keep taxes down and efficiency high without cutting services.

“We serve more than 1,500 people,” Hughes said. “We need to find a way instead of cutting services or outsourcing them. Let’s find a way to do it with out underserving the people.”

In a letter to the board and Columbia County residents before the vote, Murell said the 2018 budget will not affect any services offered by the county.

“No program maintained by the county has been eliminated and no services have been cut,” according to the letter. “We have also made additions in the interest of public safety; with the purchase of a new emergency services training center for our volunteer firemen and emergency service workers.”

The County Board approved the purchase of a property in the Gerald R. Simons Commerce Park for $840,000 in July to serve as the new emergency services training facility.

Supervisors will hold their last full-board meeting of the year Dec. 28.