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Proposed Somerset budget would trim property tax rate

SOMERSET – The Somerset Town Board will hold a public hearing on its proposed $2.5 million budget for 2014 at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall.

The proposed spending plan would cut the tax rate 9 cents, to 79 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, according to Supervisor Daniel M. Engert. The tax levy drops from the current $624,686 to a proposed $564,583.

This is despite further narrowing of the revenue stream provided for the past several years by a once-robust payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with the Somerset operating facility of Upstate New York Power Producers, formerly AES Somerset.

“Our total appropriations in our proposed budget of $2,540,078 for 2014 includes $257,000 through the PILOT agreement,” Engert said. “That’s 52 percent less than we received for 2013, which was $530,000. We chose to address this in spending cuts rather than look to the taxpayers to make up the gaps.

“The PILOT only accounts for 11 percent of our proposed total budget in 2014,” Engert noted. “In past years, the PILOT was the significant majority of the budget. The plant is in jeopardy and jobs are in jeopardy, but we are in a better position not to be impacted by what happens at the plant in the future.”

Engert said the town has saved money through job attrition and redistributing duties, as well as asking department heads to slash spending.

“We cut spending 22 percent for 2013 and we’re cutting it another 11 percent in 2014,” Engert said. “This has largely been through personnel and contracting for services.

“We’re staffing to core and using more part-time staff when needed seasonally,” he said. “And, we have contracted with Anthony Dispenza as our assessor, who comes into Town Hall every Wednesday, but is otherwise available by email and phone. He also picked up the assessor’s clerk’s duties.”

The refuse and garbage district also will notice a sizable decrease in the proposed 2014 budget. The rate will drop from the current $111.87 per unit to $23.32 per unit annually.

“We heavily applied our sales tax revenue to that,” Engert said. “We wanted to press that cost down because our community is hurting. We had a slight increase in our sales tax, thanks to the Niagara Outlet Mall, but we’re still being conservative.”

Wednesday’s public hearing will be followed by a regular meeting. The board has until Nov. 20 to adopt the budget.