Town of Batavia board members are facing a potential $1 million budget shortfall as they work to develop a spending plan for fiscal year 2021 that begins in January.
“Genesee County has allocated $8 million for revenue sharing next year, of which the Town of Batavia would get $1.3 million. That’s a million dollars less than what we budgeted to receive from the county in 2020,” said Batavia Town Supervisor Gregory Post after Wednesday’s board meeting at the Town Hall on West Main Street Road. “We have to make that up by reducing the budget and increasing other revenue streams.”
To make matters worse, Post said the town has received about $1.1 million from the county thus far in 2020 and, despite two more scheduled distributions, likely won’t hit the budgeted amount of $2.3 million.
“We really don’t know what the numbers will be,” he said. “It certainly doesn’t help that (Six Flags) Darien Lake has been closed all summer and we won’t see that sales tax.”
In short, the board has some hard choices to make – cut expenditures (a process that already has begun), use some of the unrestricted fund balance and/or raise property taxes.
Post said a substantial tax rate increase from the current $2.42 per thousand of assessed valuation is a distinct possibility.
“We would have to double the tax rate to raise the million dollars we need to close that gap,” he said, adding that the board does not want to go that route.
State Aid, Other Revenue is Down
The supervisor said the town has limited options on the revenue side.
“State aid already's been reduced by 20 percent – we’re not looking for that – plus we got a smaller percentage of VLT (video lottery terminal) money, we didn’t get any fine money for six months from the courts, and I don’t expect that to surge,” he said. “And building permit fees are likely going to be reduced this year because we haven’t had any significant commercial and industrial expansions and developments, and the local homeowner building permit fees generally don’t make a big difference.”
Post said mortgage taxes seems to be “on the uptick, but revenue from the sale of obsolete equipment is off the table – we haven’t been able to disperse any of that because we have to keep everyone employed in a separate vehicle due to COVID-19 and potential for contagion.”
He said the board has reviewed all revenue streams, and now is looking at putting some of its unexpected fund balance into the 2021 budget.
“I don’t think we have a choice,” he said. “This year (2020) our fund balance was budgeted at one million dollars. We’re working very hard to reduce this year’s expenditures – our target is to reduce that by $700,000, and save that $700,000 of fund balance to spread over the next couple years to buffer an inevitable property tax increase because I don’t see New York State politicking their way out of bankruptcy.”
Albany's Way or the Highway?
A fierce critic of the state’s progressive policies, Post took Albany to task for what he says is taking money from essential areas and blindly reallocating it.
“The fact that they have taken money out of highway funds, which are paid for strictly by gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, and distributed it to things that are serving people that don’t drive cars and buy gasoline, is an example of something that is destined to fail,” he said.
He bemoaned the fact that the federal government hasn’t raised the gasoline tax in 20 years despite cars now “getting 40 miles per gallon instead of 10 miles per gallon.”
“So, revenues per vehicle have been reduced by 75 percent,” he said. “We’ve increased the number of vehicles but it’s not enough to offset the ever-increasing costs of highway maintenance.”
Post said the town’s budget “will be adjusted to the maximum degree that we can reduce but we’ve ‘leaned’ this community out 10 years ago.”
“Our highway superintendent’s salary was reduced from $58,000 to $15,000 10 years ago. We’ve got a number of people working two or three different positions and sharing jobs, so that there’s no real person here that’s not essential. Our engineering department is averaging between 25 and 75 percent reimbursement on the projects they bring in, and that doesn’t count the value of the projects they are delivering to our community,” he offered.
Town's Growth is Impressive
He said he’s proud to see 30-percent growth in the assessed value of the town over the past decade, adding that average income has gone up by a like amount during that span.
“And property values continue to escalate, and houses continue to sell for more than they’re assessed for – more than their asking price. It’s like nothing any of us have ever experienced,” he said. “There wasn’t a revaluation done last year because our apprehension was that COVID was depressing the economy to the point where real estate would tank, and we would have an increased assessment on this year’s budget and then next year we would have to drastically reduce the assessment – but exactly the opposite happened.”
Post said the town assessor will be conducting a revaluation this winter, but those new assessments won’t take effect until 2022.
“The State of New York is saying ‘these are the numbers that we’re seeing, and these are what you’re going to have to get in order to get the state aid,’ ” he said.
Not knowing accurate revenue figures at this time makes it hard to gauge how much of the town’s fund balance should be appropriated to the 2021 budget, Post said.
“How much should we judiciously use of the unexpended fund balance to offset this disaster that came from Albany, and do we adjust the property tax rate so that we don’t spend down our buffer funds, because I don’t see the end of New York State’s interference in local government distribution,” he explained. “I don’t see the state coming up next year and saying, ‘OK, we’re going to refund everybody to their full amount.’ I don’t see that happening, so we need to guard the cash that we have very carefully.”
Public Hearing Set for Oct. 21
Along those lines, the town board passed a resolution to set a public hearing for 7 p.m. Oct. 21 for a local law to override the state’s limit on the amount of real property taxes that may be levied by the town for the fiscal year 2021, which is based on the calendar year.
“How can that person in Albany tell me that I have to cap my revenue stream when they’re cutting us by up to 35 percent?” he asked.
A special meeting has been scheduled for 5 p.m. Sept. 30 to distribute the tentative 2021 budget.
Post is calling on more residents of the town to participate in the process or at least educate themselves on how the process works.
“Ultimately, the people in the community are going to have to assist our town board and contribute their thoughts and their ideas, and be more informed. We have very little participation in our community until there’s a controversy,” he said. “When we don’t get any participation or nobody asking questions, we’re obligated to figure it out on our own. I would be happy to educate anybody that may be interested in knowing how this process comes about.”
Census Deadline is Sept. 30
Post encouraged citizens to make sure they fill out their census form as it determines representation and funding levels as follows:
- Determines the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives;
- Defines congressional and state legislative districts, school districts and voting precincts;
- Determines the annual allocation of $675 billion in federal funding for Medicaid, SNAP, highway planning, Section 8 housing grants, special education grants, national school lunch program, Head Start and other social programs;
- Provides insight to governments, business and community planning groups.
The deadline to complete and submit census forms is Sept. 30.