Weekly Feature

2005-10-19 / Local News

Some residents may see taxes rise even with rate decrease

by VICTORIA R. SPAGNOLI Associate Editor

The proposed 2006 budget for Amherst includes a nearly 2 percent decrease in the tax rate, however some residents will still see their property taxes increase next year.

The reason? A higher assessment.

Earlier this year, Amherst reassessed 18,000 homes, some of which saw major jumps and caused residents, worried about a hike in taxes, to unite in a huge public outcry.

Now it looks like that worry is coming to fruition.

Supervisor Susan Grelick released her tentative $108 million budget on September 30 and touted the fact that the tax rate went down nearly 2 percent from last year.

While on the surface it sounds good, when coupled with the fact that assessments went up, it adds a whole new perspective — and one that worries both residents and officials.

It’s something that Council Member William Kindel asked town Comptroller Maureen Cilano about during a budget public hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 11.

“Many people are terrified that assessments will come back and grab them badly,” he said.

Earlier this year, the board agreed to keep the spending increase to 2.7 percent. Grelick’s budget keeps it at a 1.9 percent increase.

“What we tried to do was control spending in the budget,” Cilano said.

But Kindel suggested that the town only utilize 2.7 percent of the town’s overall assessment toward the tax levy, which in the 2006 budget is proposed at slightly more than $75 million.

The rate is the dollar amount per $1,000 of assessed value that the town uses to determine what a resident pays in taxes. The 2006 budget calls for a tax rate of $5.39 per $1,000 of assessed value in the town; for a town resident with a house in the village, that rate is $5.96 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The tax levy is the amount of money the town needs to raise through taxes in order to balance the budget.

The property tax is the biggest portion of revenue for the town, Cilano said. The budget also calls for the use of about $429,000 in fund balance. Council Member William A. O’Loughlin, Jr. asked Cilano how much more money was going to be generated from the increased assessments.

She said she did not have that figure.

“That seems so key to what residents want to know,” O’Loughlin said. “There is a big tax increase here” because assessments went up, he added.

Cilano agreed, acknowledging that for some people, property taxes will increase even as the rate goes down. She said her taxes will go up because of her assessment increase.

‘Stealth Tax’

Critics of Grelick’s budget, such as Kindel and board candidate Guy Marlette, have accused her of using a “stealth tax” by using the $500 million increase in assessments.

Kindel, in a letter to Cilano, said in past years the town has only used a figure of $2 million in new assessed value.

Kindel questioned that if assessment increased about 8 percent why didn’t the tax rate drop the same amount.

Marlette, who spoke during the hearing, is also critical of Grelick’s use of the increased assessment. When comparing the proposed budget figures with the 2005 assessment, the tax rate actually rises about 5.27 percent, according to his figures.

When Grelick uses the new assessments, that rate decreases by about 2 percent, his figures show.

“The sound that we are hearing right now is the stealth tax increasing again,” he said.

“I think it’s time that we just get a little more open and honest.”

The burden, Marlette said, will fall on the 18,000 residents whose assessments have increased.

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