Rhinebeck’s 2014 budget will be under tax cap

1.66% proposed tax hike aided by town's 'healthy' fund balance

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The Town of Rhinebeck’s preliminary 2014 budget stays below the state-mandated 1.66 percent tax cap, which means a total increase in taxes of less than $33,354.

The 2014 budget appropriations total $3,962,342 and rely on $2,464,280 to be raised in property taxes.

For a property assessed at $250,000, homeowners in the village will pay $2.90 more and those in town will pay $16.23 more in 2014. While all residents pay for the services provided in the town-wide fund, the difference in tax amounts is a result of town residents paying for other services as well, such as the town highway department.

In past years, the town board has appropriated from the fund balance in order to keep taxes low and stay under the tax cap. But too much borrowing can be dangerous because the fund balance represents the “rainy day fund” and its health can affect credit ratings. However, deputy supervisor and budget officer Bruce Washburn told The Observer that the town’s fund balances, which are projected to total $1,816,565 by the end of the year, are in good health by state standards.

The board projects a $321,744 surplus at the end of the year which, if applied to the fund balance, would bring the total to $2,020,491. An appropriation of $203,926 from the fund balance for the 2014 budget will still allow the town to add to its fund balance once the 2013 budget year is over.

Outgoing Supervisor Tom Traudt said the town added to its fund balance last year as well, while also using some of it to balance the budget. “Ever since I got into office, even before there was a tax cap, I always wanted to keep the budget pretty low because of the fallout of the economy since 2008. So we’ve been working finances this way ever since, ” he said.

“The fund balances are the community’s dollars. There’s no reason not to use it to help balance the budget, to help provide a service or to help fund our appropriations,” he added.

The only public comment related to the budget at the public hearing Nov. 12 was from Village Trustee Heath Tortarella, who presented a request by the Village Board to increase the amount the town pays for Rhinebeck Fire Department services. Tortarella told the town board he has studied the last four years’ worth of call data from the department and found that call volumes have been increasing.

According to his research, calls to properties in the town, not the village, made up about 52 percent of the total volume three out of the four years. However, under the current contract, which is up for renewal in January, the town pays 40 percent of the department’s budget and the village pays 60 percent. So Tortarella presented a request for a $43,000 increase in the amount the town pays, to a total of $187,953.

Washburn told The Observer that the board is still considering its options but that any increase in the funding for the fire district would impact the 2015 budget, not the 2014 one.
He also said that the preliminary budget is under the tax cap by $6,500 and the town board could decide to use some of that money to put toward anticipated capital projects, such as a new heating system for town hall.

Supervisor-elect Elizabeth Spinzia told The Observer that the budget process went smoothly this year in part because of Washburn’s leadership. “Bruce presented us with a well-thought-out, cohesive draft [for the] workshop and he made it a pleasure, so I applaud him for all of his hard work,” she said.

Washburn agreed with others on the board that this year’s budget process was a success. “For several years the board has stepped up and kept taxes down, and did so again this year. We’re investing in ways to improve productivity that will enable future boards to continue to contain the cost of government. We also continue to tune processes and services so that they are reliable, timely and reasonably cost-effective,” he said.

Spinzia noted, “We’re pretty thrifty here so that we’re where residents want us to be. We’re mindful of the tax cap and we still want to fund services that are meaningful to our residents, like recreation and summer camp and maintain our infrastructure.”

She added that funding the capital replacement plan, which basically lists all the major equipment and buildings owned by the town in order to plan for future maintenance and replacement, is a priority.

The town board was scheduled to hold a special meeting Nov. 18 with the intention of adopting the budget before the Nov. 20 deadline.

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