Town budget brings 3.85% tax hike

On Nov. 7, Mayor Ron Belmont, a Republican, presented the tentative 2014 Town/Village of Harrison budget to the public, ushering in a 3.85 percent tax increase, more spending and debt decreases for the upcoming year.

The property tax increase this year will mean the average homeowner in Harrison will pay $6,152.33 in property tax to the town—a $228 increase since 2013.

The average Harrison home is valued at $1.1 million, based on estimates for the year 2013, according to Town Assessor Mark Heinbockel.

As for the tax levy, according to Town Comptroller Maureen MacKenzie, Harrison will not override the state mandated tax cap of 1.66 percent.

Starting in 2011, New York state mandated all local governments and communities abide by a tax levy increase limit of 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. According to the legislation, exclusions may be factored in, and local governments can override the cap under certain circumstances, such as growth in the retirement systems, supporting capital expenditures in a school district, and more. Ultimately, however, approving a budget in excess of the state tax cap limit requires a 60 percent majoirity vote of the municipality’s governing body.

Town taxpayers have seen steady tax increases over the years. Since Belmont took office in 2012, taxes have increased 8 percent.

However, since 2000, Harri­son property owners have seen their taxes rise by 92 percent. There hasn’t been a property tax decrease since a 0.04 percent drop in 1992.

When asked about the increases, Belmont said that the town “was strapped,” and has to compete with the rising cost of living.

“Everything is going up,” Belmont said. “Ten dollars a month increase on the average $600,000 is an increase, yes, but fuel and electrictity and things of that nature are all going up.”

Belmont expressed dissaproval at the state mandates, describing it as “the price of doing business.”

“It is what it is,” Belmont said. “I wish some of the mandates from the state were all different. If we could do away with the NY state reitrement and all the major medical increases we would be in real good shape.”

For 2014, the tentative total town budget is $56.9 million, a $1 million increase in spending in comparison to the 2013 budget of $55.9 million. The majority of the increase comes from a variety of salary increases totaling approximately $660,000 across all town departments, a $207,000 increase in New York state retirement funds and a $234,000 increase toward workers compensation.

Town employee salaries, which account for 34 percent of next year’s budget, were increased drastically in comparison to prior years. While 2014 budgets for an estimated $666,000 in salary hikes, 2013 saw a $98,000 decrease in salary expenses, and 2012, a $262,000 increase in costs. Salaries within the police department alone are expected to grow by roughly $260,000 next year, and the Divison of Highway Department nearly an additional cost to taxpayers of $100,000.

Employment by the town decreased by only one position after cutting three library jobs, saving the town roughly $130,000, and the addition of two positions, an intermediate clerk in the Community Services Department and the addition of one employee to the civilian portion of the Law Enforcement Department.

The town is also budgeting $3.5 million in sales tax revenue and  $3.4 million in fee and permits in 2014—estimates largely on par with the current year’s budget.

In terms of town debt, Harrison’s 2013 debt balance of $56.2 million will decrease to $51.7 million, due to more than $4 million of the town’s bonds coming due by the end of next year.
CONTACT: phil@hometwn.com