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New Windsor continues discussion on raising real property tax rate for Fiscal Year 2015

At their Wednesday council meeting, New Windsor officials disagreed about the need to increase the real property tax rate in the next fiscal year, or if they should dip into reserves to pay for a host of capital projects expected in the coming years.

But before that discussion took place, New Windsor Mayor Neal Roop proposed a plan to take care of much of the projected $48,950 gap between revenue and expenses expected in Fiscal Year 2015. The plan would move portions of Town Clerk and Treasurer Donna Alban's and Town Manager Frank Schaeffer's salaries to the town's enterprise fund, which pays for the town's water and sewer systems. The enterprise fund is projected at $808,600 for this fiscal year.

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Roop argued that much of the work Alban and Schaeffer do is related to the enterprise fund, making the move justifiable. Given that the fund is likely going to be able to absorb the costs of a portion of Alban's and Schaeffer's salaries, residents should not have to pay any additional fees, Roop said.

Still, council members are faced with numerous projected capital projects and expenses in the coming years, including expected stormwater management projects, town hall repairs and road repair projects, to name a few.

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Estimated costs for many expected projects were presented to the council at the meeting, some projected to run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Given those expected costs, council members asked Schaeffer at their last work session to estimate how much a 10 cent per $100 of assessed value real property tax rate increase would generate for the town.

Schaeffer estimated that a nearly 10 cent per $100 of assessed value real property tax rate increase would generate $123,815 for the town. Under such a rate - which would rise to 31 cents per $100 of assessed value - a homeowner with a property worth $200,000 would pay $620 per year rather than $423 per year under the current rate.

Some council members noted based on the costs of upcoming projects, an even larger tax increase could be needed.

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Council members Edward Smith and Kevin Null said they would prefer that the town dip into its reserves to pay for capital projects and other expenses for next year. Both said they think the council should hold off on any tax increases until there are better estimates for how much certain projects and equipment purchases are going to cost.

"I am saying let's take this year, and give Frank and the council time," Null said. "Let's put a package together."

But that idea was countered by the town's three remaining council members - Ed Palsgrove, Kimberlee Schultz and Dave Hoffman.

Hoffman said he did not want to "kick the can down the road" and burden residents with a large tax increase in the future. He said the town knew that it was going to need to raise the property tax rate at some point, so it should at least start with a small increase this year.

Palsgrove agreed, saying that he would prefer to raise the tax rate in increments rather than increasing it to an even larger extent in the future.

A few residents commented at the meeting that they would be more comfortable with incremental increases to the town's real property tax rate than a large increase all at once.

Schultz said she was not comfortable with dipping into reserves to pay for expenses the town knew it was going to have to pay. She said she hoped the town would only have to raise the rate once.

"Nobody likes raising taxes - we have not had taxes raised in a long time," Schultz said. "I would like us to come up with a plan to raise them so that we probably didn't have to raise them again for a while. I don't know if we can figure that out at this juncture or not, but, I agree, I don't want to put this off anymore."

In other town news, council members passed additional language to the town's code that creates an abatement process for town officials and home owners and occupants who have committed two or more criminal violations, noise violations or other infractions. The process would include a conference with a town official and the home owners or occupant and signed abatement agreement with terms the owner or occupant must follow.

Enforcement actions would come for those who do not follow through on their abatement agreement or commit more violations.

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