The Village and its budget

Dear Editor,

The following is an open letter to the Village of Owego taxpayers.

There can be no argument that the budget for 2017-2018 is the most important budget a Village Board has ever had to resolve and adopt. There are two hard but critical goals for you (the taxpayers) and us (the Village of Owego Board) in making this fiscal year’s village budget.  

First, we must have an economically responsible and affordable budget. Second, try to keep property tax levy rate at last year’s $18.90 per thousand assessed value. It is the responsible thing to do for our taxpayers and gives our Village a better chance at continuing its progress towards recovery. 

We hear often from our taxpaying merchants and the taxpaying homeowners that they are often just holding on and anymore tax increases or added onerous regulations may be the “last straw” or discourages them from staying in the Village. The more we lose in our tax base, the more those who remain must carry – until they too are burdened to the point of “no longer able to carry the load.”

Someone has to make a stand on behalf of the taxpayers and this board was elected by the taxpayers to do so. Even so, it is not an easy task and one that is not taken lightly as we struggle to make the best options and decisions we can on behalf of those who elected us to give them a chance to survive in the Village.

As everyone is keenly aware of, the Village has been deemed fiscally stressed and critical issues remain for the Village of Owego Board to address this budgeting year. The village finances continue to be priority one for the current board.  

The revenue projections are down or flat from almost all revenue sources that make up the Village’s General Funds, i.e. pool of money that is the Village’s base operational funding source.  

Mandated expenses that are beyond Village control in many cases have risen dramatically. There are hard mandates embedded in the collective bargaining agreements (CBA) and benefits such as workers compensation, health insurance, dental insurance and retirement contributions are examples of items we can’t change or have little control over. We are at the mercy of large increases for these items that often outstrip ways to pay for them. 

Our Village’s taxable property values have continually dropped significantly since the flood in 2011. Properties were lost and those still here have much less value. Property values are not projected to rise again this year, therefore property tax revenue will not rise for another year while keeping the same Village tax levy rate. 

Revenue projection, vs. realized revenue, has been a huge part of what has put the Village into fiscal trouble. As anyone who has attended or paid attention in the past budgeting process would have heard the often stated, “Just add to the revenue side for a balanced budget projection.” We even heard a weaker version it at Monday night’s board meeting with the statement, “We will have sales taxes coming in.”  

The problem with these types of budget manipulations is they are speculative. True there is an amount of sales taxes that comes to the Village, but we have no way of knowing for sure what the amount will be, especially when the County and State are both recognizing that sales taxes are down, which in itself is reflective of a stagnant or weakening economy.  

So what do you do when a budget is passed based on projections of revenues that do not come to fruition, which has been the case many times in past budgets. Which in turn means that we the board, and you the taxpayers, have projects, functions, departments or commitments that the Village may not be able to keep or sustain. Think about when this happens with your own finances at home; do you say, “I’ll just speculate that I may get some extra money?” Or do you say, “I will build my household budget on what I know I have to work with and anything above that is a bonus for the future?” 

During the budgeting process there are those that always play on the emotions and not the fiscal realities, and that is happening again this year. The difference is that board you elected to try and get your fiscal house in order is determined to do exactly that without the fear of “oh, my I may not get elected again if don’t play to the right groups.”  

This board is weighing all options to not only hold taxes at a sustainable level until such time as an increase is not harmful to the Village recovery efforts but also options to provide services to you at a lower cost.

We cannot spend our way out of our problems with monies we do not have without reaching deeper into the taxpayers’ pockets and this board refuses to cavalierly do that. Years of financial hardships, mismanagement and budgeting neglect by previous boards and departments since the 2011 flood cannot be allowed to continue. WE WILL NOT TAKE YOUR TAX DOLLARS FOR GRANTED!  

With this budget we have had to make hard choices that will set the path for the future. We have trimmed every department to less than what they are accustomed to but they are workable. Some departments are bare bones with the understanding that it is necessary if they have any hope to exist.  

New York State has stressed the importance of consolidation of services for municipalities and has made funding available for doing it to our Village. Just this week, we were awarded a $100,000 grant to help pay for abolishing our Village Court (which runs at a loss), which would then allow us all to use court services from the Town of Owego, a service for which you are currently paying for in your Town property taxes.  

The board continues to look at where else it makes sense to do so, especially where the Village taxpayers are already paying for such duplicate services, such as the Town and County services, but not getting any significant benefits for their tax dollars. 

We are not sure how much longer we will be able to keep property tax rates neutral, but hopefully long enough for our taxpayers to get a stronger foothold. Projections do not look promising for the property values to drastically rise in the near future and we will be forced to continue to reduce services, or face significant tax increases. This is our new reality!

We are trying to maintain a basic level of services but the numbers dictate our future more than anything else, not emotion, not history and not tradition. Everyone on this board ran on the platform of making the hard choices when it comes to balancing the finances with realistic numbers, whether we liked those numbers or not.


Village of Owego Board Trustees and Mayor May

Be the first to comment on "The Village and its budget"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.