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County passes 2024 budget with 1.4% increase

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By JEANETTE WOLFBERG

HUDSON – The Columbia County Board of Supervisors adopted the county’s budget for 2024 at its full board meeting December 13. The budget appropriates $172.4 million to spend and calls for a 1.4% tax levy increase to cover 26.2% of the appropriation. This budget is 5.6% ($9 million) more than 2023’s budget. Despite the total tax levy increase to $45.1 million, Board Chairman Matt Murell (Stockport) estimated that property owners on the average should see a tax rate decrease of 3.2%. With higher property values, a lower tax rate per property value is needed, though actual rates depend on the individual municipalities.

Before the vote, the board held a public hearing on the budget, calling for input from both supervisors and private citizens. Only one person spoke: Supervisor Raymond Staats (Clermont). Mr. Staats asked County Treasurer PJ Keeler how much is in the county’s reserve fund. The county uses this fund both for unplanned expenses that come up during the year and to support the budget.

Mr. Keeler answered that after spending about $3.5 million to buy 11 Warren Street in Hudson, the reserve fund had $30 million.

“Every year we’ve been building” that fund, remarked Mr. Staats.

The 2024 budget anticipates using $3.6 million from the reserve fund to support General and Highway expenditures. This amounts to 2.1% of the total appropriation.

Recently most county budgets have passed with the support of all supervisors except one – Mr. Staats. But this time, two supervisors voted against the budget: Mr. Staats and John Reilly (Gallatin).

Mr. Reilly gave his reasons for voting against the budget as “I don’t like the salary increase for supervisors,” and “I agree with Mr. Staats, we shouldn’t be building reserves.” The budget proposal envisioned most supervisors’ salary increasing $1000 a year.

Mr. Staats said that, as every year, he voted against the budget out of opposition to raising taxes while the reserve fund accumulates. “My argument has been the same for years.” This year he added another reason: the Solid Waste appropriation. “One of my biggest complaints is the subsidy of Solid Waste,” he said. “Some of my fellow supervisors have said they do not think we should be subsidizing solid waste.” He warned the other supervisors to remember that if they voted to approve the budget, they are voting to approve subsidizing Solid Waste.

The Solid Waste appropriation for 2024 is $4.5 million, making up 2.6% of the total budget. This appropriation is actually $12,600 less than 2023’s. Since 2016, Solid Waste has accounted for between 2.0% and 2.8% of the budget.

In his cover letter to the budget, Chairman Murrell emphasized, “No program maintained by the county has been eliminated, and no services have been cut. No reduction in the work force has been planned. The 2024 budget contains salary increases under the respective collective bargaining agreements, as well as raises for non-union employees and officers.”

For preparing the budget Mr. Murrell’s letter thanked all county officers in general but gave specific thanks to Mr. Keeler, Controller James Breig, Human Resource Director Michaele Williams-Riordon, and supervisors Arthur Bassin (Ancram), James Guzzi (Livingston), Tistrya Houghtling (New Lebanon), Ron Knott (Stuyvesant), Robert Lagonia (Austerlitz), and Richard Scalera (Hudson, 5th Ward).

Compared to the 2023 budget, the 2024 budget calls for 11% increases in expenditures for Highway and Machinery and a 31% increase in expenditures for Water. The Water appropriation has risen sharply each year starting in 2022, after several years of staying about the same, but still makes up less than 1% of the total budget. The cost of everything keeps going up, Mr. Breig explained on December 28.

The table breaks down the 2024 budget appropriations by funds, comparing each to the 2023 budget appropriation, and giving the anticipated percent covered by taxes.

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