By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
FORT JOHNSON -- The village will hold a public hearing April 18 on its 2013-14 budget, which proposes a 1.6 percent tax increase.
The total $304,298.50 plan marks an approximate 38 percent increase in appropriations compared to the current budget, mostly because of unforeseen debt incurred as a result of projects related to 2011 flooding events, said Mayor Ken Walter.
A larger tax increase was staved off with the use of about half of the village's fund balance, which will still have around $95,000 as of June 1.
"I had a feeling we would be able to do it because we had a substantial amount of cash on-hand," Walter said on staying within the state-imposed property tax cap. "It's more fund balance than we've ever had."
Walter said that surplus is mostly due to the fact the village borrowed for projects related to Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, and was then reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Walter wants to keep that cushion in the budget because of an ongoing project through the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Emergency Watershed Protection Program.
The project is for two residences by the Kayaderosseras Creek.
The program, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, doled money to local governments for addressing watershed impairments that "pose imminent threats to lives and property."
"The bid came in $20,000 more than expected, and we have not been reimbursed for it," Walter said. "The project isn't done yet, so I want to see how that finishes out."
The village borrowed nearly $200,000 for all flood recovery efforts, including mitigation projects at its wastewater treatment plant.
About half has been paid back already. Another $53,000 will be paid off in the upcoming budget.
"I didn't know how things were going to fall out," Walter said of the proposed budget. "My initial concern was our ability to stay solvent, but my main concern now is to get the debt paid off as soon as possible, because it makes me uncomfortable. We haven't been in debt for a long time, but we had no choice with the expenses incurred by the disasters."
The village also had to take out $12,000 in loans to comply with the state Department of Environmental Conservation's revived interest in a 50-year-old oil spill site at what's now the village's salt and sand storage shed.
Montgomery County had acquired a property Walter referred to as a former Tryon site, and in rehabilitating the contamination 13 years ago, constructed seven test wells, and completed other remedial measures.
The village purchased the site from the county about a decade ago for $1 to construct the shed and use the existing facility for equipment storage on Fort Johnson Avenue.
In doing so, two monitoring wells became unrecoverable, Walter said, and last year, 13 years later, DEC became interested in the site once again.
"We had to rebuild two wells, and pay for testing because they wanted to track the concentration and make sure it doesn't flow into the creek," Walter said. "It wasn't something we budgeted."
Such unforeseen circumstances are one reason Walter was hesitant to drain the reserves to pay off all the district's remaining debt.
"Seeing the fund balance, we could probably have elected to pay back the entire bond anticipation note, but still, I want to keep our options open, because you just don't know what could happen," he said.
The total tax levy is proposed at $119,648.50, and the proposed tax rate is $77.66 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation.
Copies of the budget are available for review at the village clerk's office, 27 Fort Johnson Avenue, during regular office hours.
The public hearing will take place April 18 at 6:45 p.m., before the village's monthly meeting at the Prospect Street municipal building.