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Waddington passes budget with a stable levy

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WADDINGTON – For the third year in a row, the town passed a budget that reduces the tax rate and stabilizes the levy.

The Town Council on Monday unanimously passed its 2013 budget of $1,348,591, a decrease of $87,175 from this year’s budget of $1,435,766.

“I am pleased that we were able to pass a budget that saves Waddington residents money,” said Town Supervisor Mark Scott. “That is only possible because of the changes we’ve made over the past few years. Without those changes, our budget would easily be 50 percent higher. Because we planned ahead for these things, we’re able to realize those benefits today.”

The town’s 2013 tax levy is $261,943, a $1,356 increase from this year’s levy of $260,587, Mr. Scott said. However, the town’s tax rate will decrease to $1.98 per $1,000 of property value, one cent less than this year.

“The increase in the levy is absorbed by the increase value of the town created through construction of new homes,” Mr. Scott said. “However, we have to try to find sources of revenue from other than new construction in the future. That’s not enough to cover the annual inflation increases. We have been lucky to save in other areas.”

Over the years, the town has struggled to find enough savings to offset state aid losses, increased pension costs and other payroll expenses, and a continued decline in court revenues.

The town allowed early retirement of two highway employees and outsourced its cemetery mowing. The town switched from a Teamsters supreme plan to a Medicare supplemental plan and a high-deductible plan with a health savings and reimbursement account.

“Money is put into accounts and only utilized when necessary for major medical,” said Mr. Scott. “We’re no longer paying insurance companies up front, which saves the employees as well.”

A family can save over $1,200 with a family plan, while an individual with a health insurance can save an average of $200, Mr. Scott said.

In 2010, health insurance for employees was $144,000, which was $40,000 more than it is today, Mr. Scott said.

“If we had stayed on course, costs would have increased roughly 10 percent a year for health care. Cumulatively, over the last three years, we have saved $191,000. We’re seeing the benefit of the work we did three years ago.”

The town has also renewed a contract with the St. Lawrence Health Initiative, which provides coaching, biometric screenings, counseling and other services.

“More employees are taking more responsibility for their health care by participating in the wellness program and improving their lifestyle, which will reduce the amount that the health insurance is utilized,” Mr. Scott said.

Unlike many towns and villages, the council was able to balance its budget without exhausting its fund balance, Mr. Scott said. The current unappropriated fund balance is approximately $250,000.

On Monday, the council agreed to build a town-owned campground on Leishman Point.

”We cannot rely on our fund balance forever, or new homes, which is why look at projects like the campground and renewable energy which we will continue to explore in the future,” said Mr. Scott. “Hopefully the campground will grow fast enough to provide that source of revenue we need to offset growing costs.”

Council members said they felt comfortable with passing the budget without factoring in changes based on a St. Lawrence County proposal to reduce its sales tax and snow revenue to towns and villages.

“A decrease does not look likely,” said Mr. Scott.

The council also agreed it would not pass a resolution that would support the county’s decision to raise the sales tax.

“The board’s feeling is that the 1 percent increase in the sales tax is a Band-Aid approach to fixing the county’s fiscal problems,” said Mr. Scott. “What needs to happen is serious reform on the state level to decrease the mandated costs for the county.”

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