SOMERSET — Many residents attended the Somerset budget hearing on Wednesday to get an explanation on the proposed town tax increase of 113 percent.
Somerset officials said the town is experiencing the massive increase in their town taxes because of the loss of tax revenue they have received from the coal plant that was the largest taxpayer in the town.
Dale Howard said that he would like to see the workshops come back so he can see the budget being composed and have more input during the process.
“The one thing I would like to see is the workshops come back. I know the budget. I know how to read the budget, but I’d like to see the nitty gritty ... I’d like to see that come back which probably would give me a lot more input into what we do with the budget,” he said.
Some have proposed that the wind turbines may be able to help bring in some extra tax revenue. Several residents voiced their concern at this idea.
Kathy Pellegrino said that she believes properties will lose value if the wind turbines are built.
“Our properties are being further devalued if those windmills come,” she said. “I don’t care if I have to go to a post office box to get my dog license, but I do not want to look at those windmills.”
Jim Hoffman shared Pellegrino’s concerns about the wind turbines and added that he believes state energy policies are to blame for the coal plant revenue loss.
“We do not want the wind turbines here. Apex could cut our taxes a little bit if they just rolled out of town,” Hoffman said. “Everything else aside, I think we know what the real problem and it’s the terrible policies that come our own way with relation to energy policy. Shut down coal plants, kill our tax base, do not allow us to buy natural gas from Pennsylvania, shoot down all the pipelines and deny some people in New York state, particularly in the southern tier, to benefit from natural gas. The real elephant in the room is our leaders in Albany.”
Before the public hearing was opened for comment, Town Supervisor Dan Engert gave an hour long presentation on how exactly the town budget works and the problems the town is facing to try and clear some confusion before the public hearing was opened.
He explained that in 2008 when the payment in lieu of taxes agreement (PILOT) with the coal plant went into effect, it created $1.3 million in revenue for the town. However, in 2018, the town is expected to receive only $139,000 from the coal plant, he said.
When Engert was asked why they didn’t just build the wind turbines to make up for the loss in revenue, Engert said the town would not get all of the revenue that the PILOT agreement would bring. Several jurisdictions would be able to receive PILOT money, not just Somerset. Engert said the town would get about 3 percent of the PILOT revenue, which would amount to around $31,500 — just four percent of Somerset’s 2018 operating budget.
However, Engert noted the numbers he presented were assumptions and could change.
Engert said Governor Andrew Cuomo has decided that New York will be coal free by Dec. 31, 2020. That means the coal plant will have to switch to another energy fuel, most likely natural gas, or close its operations.
He added that the town’s tax rate is smaller than it was in 2012, the year he was elected supervisor. In 2012, the town tax rate was $1.77 per 1,000 of assessed property value and in 2018 it will be 1.68.
Also, he mentioned that Somerset, even with the town tax hike, has cheaper overall taxes than neighboring communities that include Royalton, Hartland and Wilson.
Engert said he’s decided against changing taxes moderately over the year. He said the town wanted to create a climate for home and business ownership. Had they raised taxes they would have exceeded the tax cap and residents would not have been able to get tax levy rebates from the state, he said.
Engert said another reason they didn’t increase the town tax was that he was in talks with multiple business that wanted to relocate to the parcel of land that was eyed by Verizon in 2011.
He said the public hearing went well and that the residents perspectives changed when he provided some context and clarification that the tax increase was really only to the town tax. He also added that the impact is going to be on average about $89 to taxpayers’ bills.