LAKE GEORGE — It’s shaping up to be a year unlike any other for village taxpayers.
The uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with expenses associated with the new wastewater treatment plant and significant changes to the village’s property tax rate, have combined to create one of the most difficult budgets Mayor Robert Blais has put together in his 50 years as mayor.
They have also created a lot of uncertainty for taxpayers.
“We did as good as we can,” Blais said during a budget workshop meeting on Monday.
Village taxpayers would see a significant drop in the property tax rate under the proposed budget, but some taxpayers are expected to see an increase in their tax bills in the upcoming fiscal year.
That’s because a town- and village-wide reassessment is finally catching up with taxpayers, Blais said.
“The reason for the decrease is the fact that the town’s re-evaluation is now hitting our books. We’re always a year later than the town’s evaluation,” he said.
Property owners would pay $5.53 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2021-22, a decrease of $1.10 from the current tax rate of $6.43 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The village’s assessed valuation increased by approximately $35 million, to over $265 million, as a result of the revaluation. That higher valuation created the lower property tax rate.
But whether taxpayers will see a decrease in their overall tax bill depends on their individual assessment, Blais said.
A higher assessed property value, coupled with the lower tax rate could mean a tax bill remains flat, or increases slightly, depending on just how much an individual assessment has increased.
There’s even possibility that some will see a decrease.
“We know the lesser tax rate will result in people having paid nearly the same or more, depending on how much they would be raised,” he said. “This affects the tax rate substantially.”
Blais said homeowners that have seen their assessed value increase could end up paying between $75 and $150 more this year in property taxes than they had previously.
Businesses, too, are likely to see an increase in their out-of-pocket expenses between $500 and $5,000, depending on the assessed valuation of the property, Blais said.
The estimates are based on a small sampling of homes and businesses found throughout the village, Blais said.
“There’s no way I can look at the budget and say, ‘Mrs. Jones, this is what you’re going to pay.’ They’re not going to know until they get their tax bill,” Blais said.
The proposed budget stays under the state’s property tax cap, and includes just over $1.4 million to be collected by taxes and anticipates around $3.8 million from other revenue streams.
Village spending would increase by just over $400,000 from $5.4 million to $5.7 million. The proposed increase is linked to the estimated maintenance costs associated with the new wastewater treatment plant coming online later this year.
“This $400,000 is not even the entire year’s estimate,” Blais said. “It’s based on our plant opening, perhaps in November … and goes through the end of our fiscal year of May 31,” Blais said.
The estimated cost to operate the plant for a full year is projected to be $600,000, Blais said.
Blais said the village is still looking for additional funding for the wastewater plant, and has reached out to both the Lake George Association and the Fund for Lake George to see if the project is eligible for any additional grants.
The project, last year, received a $9.4 million state grant to help cover the costs associated with its $25 million cost.
Blais added that if no additional revenue stream for the plant is found or if the projected costs increase, the village’s finances would likely look very different this time next year.
“Our only big hope that we can have is that the engineers have overestimated the maintenance cost for the wastewater treatment plant,” he said. “We won’t know until we get one year under our belt.”
Some of the expected costs for the treatment plant will be shared with the town of Lake George, which has a contract with the village to use the plant for its Caldwell Sewer District.
It remains unclear how much the tax rate in the sewer district will increase once the new plant comes online.
To help offset the cost associated with the plant coming online, the village will take $500,000 from its surplus fund.
The proposed budget slashes spending wherever possible, including eliminating the peace officer program and a part-time code enforcement officer. Department budgets have also been trimmed.
The budget also calls for increasing revenues from the current $3.5 million to just over $3.8 million, but much of the increase will come from the town of Lake George for expenses relating to the wastewater treatment plant.
It remains unclear how much the village will be able to collect from other revenue streams, Blais said.
“We have no idea what to expect from some of our revenues,” he said.
The village lost over $260,000 in revenue in 2020 because of the pandemic, including around $25,000 in parking meter revenue, and between $30,000 and $40,000 in parking permit fees due to the cancellation of the Americade motorcycle rally.
Americade, which typically takes place in June, has been moved to September this year because of the pandemic. Blais said it remains unclear if the event will draw the same crowd.
Around $23,000 in departmental revenue has been cut from the proposed budget, which also accounts for a $20,000 loss in occupancy and sales tax revenue.
“We don’t really know what to expect,” Blais said.
A public hearing on the proposed budget is expected to take place next month.
Chad Arnold is a reporter for The Post-Star covering the city of Glens Falls and the town and village of Lake George and Washington County government. Follow him on Twitter @ChadGArnold.