City to consider restoring 4 police officers in budget

CHAUMONT — The village Board of Trustees approved the budget for the upcoming fiscal year at its April 20 meeting, setting the village property tax rate at $4.46 per $1,000 of assessed value.

That means a village property owner with a $100,000 home will see a tax bill of $446 this year. The village expects to bring in about $168,000 from property taxes, to support the $376,000 general fund.

Village Mayor Valerie M. Rust, who is also the village’s budget and finance director, said while the goal is always to at least keep taxes flat from year to year, she was pleased to see this year called for a small cut. She said a big part of that is due to the fact that the village board last year prepared for much worse financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic than they ultimately saw.

“The pandemic, I have to say it didn’t really affect us financially,” she said.

The mayor said the village’s small professional staff was largely able to work from either their homes or their offices whenever necessary, so they didn’t have to furlough staff or pay people who weren’t working.

For sales tax revenue, a major revenue source for the village, Mayor Rust said income wasn’t cut nearly as much as they expected, and tourism specifically seemed to be as strong as ever.

“I have to say COVID didn’t really impact tourism last year, it was like people were escaping the cities and coming right to our area,” she said.

Last year, the village budget called for about $80,000 in sales tax revenue, a steep cut from the $127,218 they received for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which ended May 31, 2020. This year, the village is budgeting for $90,000 in sales tax revenue.

Mayor Rust said that perhaps in part due to the surprisingly strong tourism season the village saw last year, the village actually ended up bringing in about $127,000 for sales tax revenue last year. This year, while she still sees reason for caution, Mayor Rust said she chose to bump the expected revenue up by $10,000.

“We had a good year last year, and I don’t expect sales tax revenue to drop at all this year, I expect it to go higher actually,” she said.

The village is preparing for a few projects as well, and this year’s budget reflects that. The village park’s department budget includes an additional $35,000, much of which will be spent on a resurfacing project for the Haas Memorial Tennis Courts and basketball court on Main Street.

The mayor said that after doing research on other neighboring municipalities projects, she expects the project will cost about $32,000. She said the project is much needed.

“Our tennis courts are in a shambles, and they have been for quite a while,” she said. “We’re in good shape for this, and I know the residents will be glad that it’s finally getting done. The courts are not only an eyesore, but it’s just a piece of property that can’t be used because it’s in such bad shape.”

The village is also anticipating a large resurfacing project for Water Street, which was torn up recently to improve the underlying water infrastructure. They’re taking in about $30,000 extra in state Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program aid this year, and boosting the street maintenance budget by $36,000 in order to complete that project.

“There are a lot of repairs that need to be done, for the sidewalks and the street itself,” Mayor Rust said.

One village department saw a significant cut this year, the refuse and trash collection department. Mayor Rust said that cut came because the village’s wastewater treatment operator left for other employment, and the village hired on another laborer to fill the gap. That called for a reshuffling of budgets, and the new laborer’s employment benefits, like health insurance, cost less than the previous employees.

This year’s budget also includes a raise for the mayor and village trustees. The mayor’s salary will raise from $5,500 to $6,500, and the four village trustees will each see a $400 raise, from $2,100 to $2,500. In total, the salary raises will cost about $2,900.

Mayor Rust said the change came after the village voted not to dissolve, as she had not been thinking about salary changes with the potential dissolution of the village government on the horizon during the last budget season. This is the second raise to village leadership salaries in 12 years, and brings Chaumont to about average with similarly sized villages around upstate New York.

“I did an extensive study of the mayor and trustee positions in the area and the state, and found that we were a little low, especially in terms of what we’re responsible for as elected officials,” Mayor Rust said.

For her own position, the mayor said she handles all financial reporting to the state comptrollers office, the village’s annual budget, the monthly financial reconciliations to account for each dollar spent and tracking the village’s equipment inventory.

Mayor Rust is the only candidate who has declared a run for village mayor in this year’s election, and she said she expects this will be her last term. Once a new mayor comes in, she said she would hope to reallocate responsibilities and bring that mayor’s salary back down to $5,000 a year.

The mayor said this year’s budget wasn’t quite what she had expected. Last November, village voters were asked whether they wanted the village’s government to dissolve entirely, removing a level of local government. When that measure failed, to the surprise of the village leadership, they were faced with a much longer financial future than was expected.

“This originally was going to be a budget for just six months of operations, where we would try to get things paid off as service transition to the town of Lyme,” she said. “But since we didn’t have to do that, basically we went back to business as usual.”

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

I write about north country politics, Jefferson County and the northern shoreline towns of Lyme, Cape Vincent, Clayton and Alexandria Bay

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