Johnstown’s budget hearing set for Monday: To discuss tentative 9% tax rate increase

JOHNSTOWN – A 9 percent tax rate increase remains in the tentative 2017 city budget, which is the subject of a public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

The Common Council will conduct its regular business meeting at that time, and part of that meeting will include the annual budget hearing.

Interim Mayor Cindy Lakata on Oct. 3 released her tentative $12.7 million 2017 budget to the council.

“I won’t be doing any further work on the budget,” Lakata said Wednesday. “Of course, the council can make some changes on it.”

City Treasurer Michael Gifford said Wednesday that no changes have been made to the tentative budget since Oct. 3.

“It’s still at whatever was submitted,” Gifford said.

He said the “goal” has been to have the council adopt next year’s city budget on Nov. 21.

“The 9 percent [tax rate hike] is certainly going to get people’s attention,” Gifford said.

But Gifford said members of the council have discussed getting together for budget workshops before adoption to reduce the budget further.

Following the death this summer of Mayor Michael Julius, the council appointed Lakata as interim mayor until Dec. 31.

Most of the first half of her appointment involved working with Gifford on the tentative 2017 budget. The proposed spending plan she submitted shows it exceeds the tax cap by $368,000. That means a city home assessed at $50,000 will see an increase of $51.50 in its tax bill. A home assessed at $100,000 will see an increase of $103.

The tentative budget carries a $5.5 million levy – an increase of $441,000. The tax rate is slated to increase by $1.03 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or 9 percent – from $11.36 per $1,000 to $12.39.

“I think a dollar increase in the tax rate isn’t a huge increase,” Lakata said.

She said the council now has an opportunity to cut expenditures or certain items if it wants to reduce city taxes further. She said she hopes that if any members of the public are upset with the tax increase – and appear at Monday’s hearing – she hopes they have a “plan” to suggest to the council.

“I think the council’s going to have a tough job,” Lakata said.

There are no layoffs or pay increases in the 2017 city budget. A requested new $485,000 fire truck was taken out before Lakata released her tentative budget. Fund balance is being kept at 10 percent of the total budget. The city also is anticipating $383,000 less revenue. The city is using $197,439 in fund balance to balance the tentative budget.

A total of $793,000 was cut from city departmental requests.

Following a year of property revaluation in the city, the council last December adopted a $12 million 2016 city budget that carried a nearly 37 percent property tax-rate decrease from 2015 due to the city’s property revaluation.

But the tax levy was still up for 2016, at $5.05 million – a $165,000, or 3.3 percent, increase from the $4.88 million levy in the 2015 city budget. The state tax levy cap last year for the city was $5.06 million, and the city’s levy for 2016 ended up being just under that cap.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected].

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