A tax hike of more than 11 per cent for Schroon taxpayers in 2016 is being described by Town Supervisor Mike Marnell as “unfortunate, but there’s no way around it”.
The increase is due to expenses in multiple areas: the rising cost of healthcare and a salary increase for town employees, funds to supplement a Federal grant to repair the town airport, repairs to the town’s tennis and basketball courts, a new truck and the cost associated with a new ambulance district.
The new taxes will add an additional $43.00 per $100,000 of a home’s assessed value.
“We had health insurance going up $12,000, (current premiums are $400,000), we did give all the employees a $.50 an hour raise, so that gives us an extra $25,000,” Marnell told Schroon Laker.
Then there’s theupgrade to the airport. The town will fork over around $39,000 as part of its mandated fund match.
“It's a match of a $640,000 federal grant. The federal government pays 90%, state pays 5%, and the town pays 5%. Well it was time they had to resurface the airport, taking a ledge out, but the town signed up for that oh, probably seven years ago.”
As for the tennis courts, the town will pony up around $87,000 to help with the rebuilding of new courts.
“We got a grant for $195,000 from the state, a matching grant. I'm not going to spend that much on it, but for every dollar that we spend, the state matches it. There's going to be new fencing, complete reconstruction of tennis courts. We anticipate that's what it will cost us”.
By far the largest ticket item is the formulation of the ambulance district, which involves reincorporating the ambulance service as a non-profit which will allow the squad to hire paid staff. That comes in at around $130,000 and will cover two paid personnel: an EMT and another trained in ALS (Advanced Life Support).
“We've got another year to operate with the 12 hours paid, and 12 hours of volunteer. We had a meeting at Lake Placid last month and they gave us one more year ….you see the thing is they (The EMS Staff) have to be out of the door in ten minutes.
“That's what they grade them on, you know? The volunteers made it this year. We were close, but they extended it a year. When the time comes if we lose two key players, we're out of business. We've only got one ALS member in town. Then during the day we have a paid ALS and a paid EMT on staff”.
So the obvious question we had was fairly straightforward: Why not charge for the Schroon Lake EMS service? If it was only that simple. Here’s Marnell’s answer:
“We contract with the fire department, the fire department, we've been with the fire department for 100 years, but 55 years ago they started the emergency squad and the town has a contract with the fire department to provide emergency service. They cannot charge as long as it's the volunteer fire department who's in charge of it”.
“We were checking and the only way you can charge if you have an independent emergency squad. We're almost sure, our attorney's checking on it, but they'd have to be housed in their own building, so that would mean building a garage which would also have to have a bathroom, and a shower room, and a bedroom and a kitchenette”. Translation; You have to spend money to make money.
Other costs include more than $16,000 associated with the town’s retirement fund, a $7,000 contribution to a shared boat wash station, $10,000 to the town’s medical center and $35,000 for a new truck.
Marnell said he did everything he could to keep the increase low, including dipping into the Town’s Emergency Fund for $100,000, leaving a balance of around $500,000.
“I would have gladly taken another $100,000 out and it would have kept the tax rate down to what we could have almost stayed at the cap, almost. I'm comfortable with a $300,000 (fund balance) personally…everybody worries, yes, you could lose a water tank and you could lose a golf course, you could have a storm and lose all your docks. I mean there's a lot of things that could happen.”
And as for next year?
“Well, next year, I mean if things go right, we'll be all right. We won't have the tennis court, we'll have the airport and hopefully health insurance is going to I don't know taper off or what. It's a tough one you know. It's getting so health insurance is like our payroll”.