Tentative Suffern budget boosts taxes by double digits

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

SUFFERN – The newly-released tentative budget proposal for the Village of Suffern includes relatively steep tax and rate increases in the areas of general taxes, sewer rates and water rates.

In the proposal, general fund appropriations climbed from $12.3 to $13.5 million, a $1.2 million increase intensified by revenues which dropped by $795,000 and a diminishment of taxable village assets, which ticked downward by 0.4 percent to $518,353.

Consequently, Mayor Trish Abato and her team opted to bump its property tax rate up from $6.196 per $100 assessed valuation to $7.607, a whopping 22.8 percent increase. According to the budget report, relatively meager cuts to expenditures were one of the only options to offset costs given the fixed nature of devalued taxable assets.

“While nothing can be done about the decrease in the assessment roll, approximately every $154,000 change in the roll will impact the tax rate by one-tenth of one percent,” Village Treasurer Michael Genito stated in the budget message. “In other words, the $518,353 decrease in assessments would increase the tax rate by 0.4 percent, all other things remaining equal.”

According to Genito, expenditures were also difficult to control, with a hefty chunk of costs coming in the form of $658,000 in employee benefit obligations and pay increases. This figure does not include Village Police personnel costs, which totaled $409,000 alone.

General fund revenues also suffered, with lower returns in the areas of departmental income, property sales, inter-fund revenues and proceeds of obligations. In total, departmental income decreased by $231,000.

Meanwhile, more modest water and sewer rate increases were reported as necessary to address future debt service and dig Suffern out of its present fiscal hole.

Water fund expenditures will increase by about $245,000, or 12.2 percent, with a lion’s share of $140,000 added to a contingent account to reduce reliance on revenue anticipation notes (RAN). The sewer rate similarly reflects future obligations by setting aside $162,500 in revenue, resulting in a $52,000 increase of 14.4 percent.

Ultimately, the village hopes to use a 10-year deficit financing plan to eliminate its obligations, including RANs received since 2010 to keep the village afloat. The most recent round of fix approvals were given by the Village Board in mid-February, when $1.5 million was bonded to maintain cash flow.

Suffern residents were saddled with rising taxes and utility rates last year as well, though the increases were far smaller. In the 2014-2015 budget, water rates increased by 5.1 percent, sewer rates by 2.1 percent and property taxes by 2.6 percent. It remains to be seen whether resistance to the budget develops within the board or community.