Unless something drastic occurs in the next three months, homeowners in Schoharie County may be facing a possible property tax increase of eight to nine percent next year, according to budget officer Bill Cherry.
Citing the expenses of the newly created county administrator position, the "ever-increasing costs of the streambank project" and burdensome state mandates, Cherry estimated that county spending is likely to jump by $1.5 to $1.8 million over 2015 spending levels.
The controversial streambank mitigation project to correct a series of flood-damaged streams in the Schoharie Valley began in 2014 and is currently $3 million over budget. A federal agency has halted payments for the massive project, and in August an audit found that the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors mismanaged the effort.
Although the figures are only preliminary at this point, the potential for a near double-digit property tax increase would be one of the largest proposed levies since the infamous 1992 budget that, if approved as initially proposed, would have resulted in a 59 percent tax hike.
Blenheim Supervisor Shawn Smith is adamant in his opposition to any tax increases.
Expressing his belief that "any tax increase is directly attributable to the streambank project that certain supervisors continued to push forward, regardless of cost," Smith said: "I won't vote for any budget that increases taxes.”
Further complicating the budget, according to Cherry, is the fact that the county's property tax cap has been set at just 0.73 percent, which equates to "only about $147,000 in 'new' money," he said.
Any increase in taxes over the cap would require a two-thirds supermajority from the county board.
Despite the gloomy tax outlook, Cherry remained optimistic.
“There is still a great deal of work to be done on the budget," said Cherry, who will give his budget officer duties to Steve Wilson, the new county administrator, in November. Cherry is guiding the county through one final budget cycle until Wilson can get his feet wet, he said.
"I expect my final budget cycle to be a difficult one, and some increase in taxes appears to be inevitable," Cherry said.
However, with department heads still in the process of submitting their funding requests for 2016, Cherry is hoping that he can narrow the gap, although he conceded that "there are still many unknowns."
The tentative budget is required to be proposed by October 15. After that, the county will face a tight two-month schedule to obtain final passage.