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Potsdam counting on sales tax for lower property tax rates in 2014

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POTSDAM — The Town Council approved the tentative 2014 budget, complete with tax cuts, at a special meeting Tuesday.

The budget will be subject to a public hearing at 6:15 p.m. Nov. 7 before a final vote and its adoption.

At a meeting earlier this month, the board looked at a budget with a tax rate of $1.088 per $1,000 of assessed value, a penny more than 2013. However, although the increase would not have taken the total levy above the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap, the state’s formula does not take just the levy into account. It included a penalty for the townwide property value reassessment completed this summer, which increased the total size of the tax base. This pushed the budget over the limit.

The town board did approve a resolution allowing it to go over the limit if needed, but Supervisor Marie C. Regan said she was determined to keep it under. “We had to go back to the drawing board,” she said.

Another look at the budget provided an easy answer. The St. Lawrence County Legislature finally passed a long-awaited 1 percent sales tax hike earlier this year, at least part of which is expected to be distributed to other municipalities.

The original budget did not include this expected increase. Once it was factored in, tax rates could drop.

If the budget passes as is, town and village residents will pay $2.13 per $1,000 of assessed property value, $.14 less than 2013. Town residents living outside the village of Potsdam will pay an additional $0.737 per $1,000 for the fire district, $.053 less than last year.

There was one major argument among board members before the vote passed, regarding the salary of assessor James P.Snyder.

Mr. Snyder, who works full time, received $38,480 last year. This year’s tentative budget called for a raise to $42,000, a 9.1 percent increase. This was suggested to bring Mr. Snyder’s salary closer to those of assessors in other large St. Lawrence County municipalities.

Not everyone was happy with the proposed hike, including Tracey E. Haggett-Sloan, president of the Town of Potsdam Taxpayers Association.

“I would hope that the prudence of the board would show that a nine percent increase is not justified in this case,” she said.

Board member Michael J. Zagrobelny agreed, saying a large raise for Mr. Snyder, who is not part of a union, is not fair to the union employees who are locked into a small annual increase.

After some discussion, the board compromised on a $40,400 salary, a 5 percent increase. That passed 3-2, with Mr. Zagrobelny and Rollin A. Beattie dissenting. When the full budget went up for a vote, it was passed unanimously.

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