October 26, 2005

Looking over the town budget

Reading the town budget is unfortunately a pretty difficult exercise. While it clearly presents comparisons of this year's spending to last year's spending by category, those categories are often pretty vague. On the revenue side, there's no simple listing of the money coming in, broken down by, say, sales tax expectations, reserves, interest, and unspent cash, and then the property taxes that are usually everyone's focus.

I'm especially concerned about sales tax expectations, as the Town of Ithaca, which draws from the same pot of sales tax revenues as Dryden, is planning a 22% tax levy increase because of "conservative estimates for sales tax revenues." The unexpended balances for a lot of categories on the cover page rival the revenues for a lot of categories, and I'm trying to figure out why, for instance, the "Revenues" for Total Townwide 2006 are $1,359,990 and the "Amount Raised" (from property tax) is $958,525 - but "Unexpended Balance" for that category is $1,087,000.

Looking at the bottom line - the tax levy and tax rate, this is the first time in three years that the tax rate has dipped, from $1.477 to $1.436 per thousand dollars. That said, though, the tax levy has increased again, from $914,241 to $958,525, or 4.8%. That's an improvement over last year's 7.9% increase, but it marks the second consecutive year where the town tax levy increased more than the county's.

And the year before that saw an 8.5% increase in the town tax levy too. The best part? The tax rate had stayed the same (within a penny) since 2003 - so if you just talk about rate, it looks like the Town Board has held the line on taxes and given a small cut this year. Unfortunately, the rate hides the tale of rising assessments, and the steady increase in the property tax levy since 2003, while the town has been in solidly Republican control.

After years of hearing rhetoric about "free-spending Democrats," I never thought I'd find myself in the party of fiscal responsibility, but somehow Democrats have done a better job of lowering the tax levy over the past decade in Dryden than Republicans.

Posted by simon at October 26, 2005 12:16 PM in
Note on photos