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Town of Washington ups its taxes

by Stephen Kaye
Wed Jan 27th, 2016

The Town of Washington tax bill that taxpayers are opening shows a rise of 22.7% over last year.  The town has offered an explanation in a statement that is on the town’s website.  The town broke through the 2 percent limit by adopting a resolution that required a super majority.  There are five board members.  Michael Murphy was appointed to fill the vacancy after the resignation of Karen Mosca in November. 

According to figures published by the county, the exempt portion of the real estate in the Town of Washington is 26 per cent of the total.   The assessor’s office told us that exemptions increased 4.3 percent over the prior year which means the added tax burden is shared by a lesser amount of property value. 

The main added costs mentioned by the town’s statement are for sand and salt ($100,000), an increase in library taxes that was approved by voters - $80,000 and salary, repairs and minor improvements.  The budget did not, as in prior years, anticipate using an allocation from the reserve fund.  The town’s share of the fire department’s budget, that includes EMS services, is $417,565. The prior years fire department budget was $422,890. 

Mary Alex, the town clerk and tax collector, explained that the repaving of North Tower Hill Road is not an expense of taxpayers as the money will come from the State under the CHIP program. 

As the assessed value of real property in the town decreases, which it is doing, the rate of taxation increases. 

The Town’s statement on the budget follows:

 

2016 Budget News  December 23, 2015

Tax Rates to Increase

The Town of Washington Town Board has adopted the 2016 Budget.  It is the Board’s intent to make residents aware of certain budget expenditures and situations which will increase real estate taxes.

Historically, the Town of Washington has always been conservative with its spending.  We have been criticized from time to time for not spending enough on certain items.  We have always stayed within the NYS mandated tax cap limit, holding the line the best we could on spending, while at the same time budgeting ahead for certain high cost expenses such as major equipment purchases.  This year, however, there are several factors that required the town to exceed the 0.73% tax cap.

The cost of salt and sand have, during the past year, increased by 50% causing a $100,000 increase to obtain the amount needed to adequately care for our roads.  If we experience a mild winter, there will be a cost savings that will be helpful in 2017.

In an effort to stay within the tax cap, the highway department has, for two years worked with a reduced staff.  A new highway superintendent has been elected, and the current Highway Superintendent will return to the highway department staff, to bring the department to a full complement. .The addition of a full time employee should decrease the overtime costs the town has experienced.

Recreation Director Warren McMillan will be retiring in June of 2016.  Mr. McMillan had a salary cap of $30,000 in order not to lose certain state benefits.  The costs associated with the salary and benefits for a new Recreation Director will cost approximately $33,000 which will bring the salary level and benefits to what the job demands.

The Town has been advised that we need to upgrade the electric and filtration system at the town pool, with an expense of approximately $20,000.00.  It is almost 10 years since the filtration system was overhauled.  The safety of the swimming public is paramount to all.

The Town has always maintained a healthy fund balance to carry over into the next year to soften the blow of unanticipated cost of items and increases.  While a fund balance will continue to exist, it is not what it used to be and will remain smaller for the foreseeable future.  Dutchess County has capped the amount of sales tax revenue the town receives, creating a reliable income, but one which does not afford us the opportunity to put money away to reduce taxes.  The Office of the State Comptroller’s Office has suggested that the fund balance should be strengthened. 2016 will be the first time in over 20 years that a fund balance will not be applied to reduce taxes.

To make things even more interesting, the assessed value of property in the town has decreased due to increased exemptions sought and received by property owners.  Every time an exemption is rightfully granted for agriculture, forestry, not for profits, Veterans or an age and income exemption, the tax rate increases for all property owners.  During the real estate boom years, when there were new homes and additions being built, there was enough of an increase in assessed values to counter approved exemptions.

The Town Board has not changed their approach to closely scrutinize all town expenditures.  The town has enacted some cost saving measures to counterbalance the increases.  All town employees and officials will begin contributing 10% of their health care premiums reducing costs to property owners by $15,600.00.  Town Hall employees are job sharing, thereby eliminating one position and providing a savings of $30,000.00.  Most budget lines have been frozen or decreased.

New York State Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIP’s) money will be used towards the engineering costs associated with improvements on two bridges in need of repair on Stanford Road and Oak Summit Road.  CHIP’s funding will also be used for repaving North Tower Hill Road in the spring of 2016.  The anticipated funding is $300,000.00.

Another project the Town hopes to accomplish is improved handicapped accessibility and a refurbishment of the portico of the Town Hall.  The Town has applied for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) in the amount of $150,000.00.

Millbrook Tribute Garden, Inc. has been a benefactor to the Town contributing $15,000.00 towards recreation programs and $15,000.00 for building improvements.  The Town Board is grateful for their continued support of the town and our community.

The net effect of all of this will result in an increase in tax rates and taxes for our residents.  Property owners within the Village of Millbrook’s tax rate will increase from .497 to .6125 cents per thousand.  A property assessed at 250,000 will see the town tax increase from $124.25 to $153.13. ($28.80) Town residents living outside the Village’s tax rate increases from 1.497 to 1.837, therefore a property assessed at 250,000 will increase from $374.25 to $459.25. (85.00)  Town residents are taxed for the fire and rescue services contracted through the Village of Millbrook and East Clinton Volunteer Fire Department.  The Fire Tax for town residents will decrease slightly from .357 to .354 cents per thousand, and a homeowner with an assessed value of 250,000 will see their fire tax decrease from $89.20 to $88.50.

The voters of the Town of Washington approved an annual increase in funding to the Millbrook Library of $84,000.00, increasing the annual contribution to $184,000.00.  While the Millbrook Library is considered a separate taxing authority and not subject to the towns tax cap, the library tax is included in the property tax bill.    The library tax is paid by residents in and out of the village.  The rate per thousand has increased from .085 to .1567 and using the assessed value of 250,000 the tax will increase from $21.25 to $39.18.

Town Clerk Mary Alex stated that the 2016 tax bills should be sent to all property owners or tax service organizations by January 20, 2016.  If a property owner does not receive a tax bill, and does not use the service of a mortgage escrow with their bank, they should call the Town Hall at 677-3419. If residents have a change of address or have recently satisfied their mortgage, it is in their interest to verify the information the town has on file.  New York State regulations put the onus on the property owner to know when their taxes are due.  In 2016, taxes are due by February 29th without penalty.  Taxes may be paid at the Town Hall during regular business hours from 9:00 am – 12;30 pm and 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm, or via the US Postal Service, with a postal postmark, not a postal meter, on or before the due date.