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Ogdensburg votes to override state cap on property tax levies

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OGDENSBURG — For a moment, the question of whether the City Council would override a state cap on property tax levies hung in the balance.

Councilman Daniel E. Skamperle paused Monday evening to consider his vote before the council passed an ordinance allowing it to increase the city tax levy by more than 2 percent.

“It isn’t that I want to increase taxes more than 2 percent,” Mr. Skamperle said. “I don’t want to put the city in trouble.”

Mr. Skamperle’s vote gave the measure the supermajority it needed to pass, 5-2.

The proposed budget calls for the property tax levy to increase from $4,459,136 in 2012 to $4,931,106 next year, a gain of $471,970 or 10.6 percent. To stay within the property tax cap, council members would have to trim $382,787 from the $19,638,757 proposed budget.

Philip A. Cosmo, city comptroller, was a proponent of the override.

“I see it as a fail-safe. If we don’t pass this and our levy is incorrectly calculated, any amount that we take over 2 percent will have to go into a reserve account. It would put our budget out of balance,” he said.

Mr. Cosmo said he wanted the council to permit room for error despite the accuracy of previous tax levy calculations.

“It is not that we don’t have confidence in Phil, but there were other leaders that had confidence in their comptrollers and found themselves in trouble,” Mayor William D. Nelson said.

After a majority of the council members had previously said they would not favor exceeding the tax cap, only Wayne L. Ashley and Jennifer Stevenson voted against the measure.

“My intent is not to exceed the 2 percent cap,” Mr. Ashley said. “I think we can get our budget in below it.”

After the meeting, the council held a budget work session with Matthew J. Curatolo, director of parks and recreation. Council members questioned every expense, including equipment purchases, summer sports programs and maintenance for the municipal marina and boat launches.

“It is a tight budget, and we need to see what we need and don’t need,” Deputy Mayor Michael D. Morley said. “Right now, I have my budget down to around a 2 percent tax levy increase. I won’t support any increase over 2 percent.”

The council questioned whether to keep the Elsa M. Luksich Municipal Pool and Richard G. Lockwood Civic Center open and maintained. Mr. Morley said he would not continue to support funding either facility if their revenues and use continued to fall, but Councilman R. Storm Cilley argued for the services.

“You keep on saying you represent the taxpayers, but if you eliminate all of these extras, there isn’t going to be any community to represent,” said Mr. Cilley.

Mr. Skamperle said he would cast a wide net to cut the budget.

“I’m going bare bones,” he said.

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