townhall_120The Lansing Town Board passed a $4.3 million budget Wednesday, but Village of Lansing Mayor Donald Hartill was not happy.  For the past several years Hartill has been arguing for a reduction in villagers' town taxes because he says they do not receive services for them.  In 2010 Hartill said that village taxpayers pay the Town $700,000 per year, but only receive $100,000 in services from the Town.  Earlier this year Hartill met with the new Town Board, but no consideration to the issue was evident in budget that was passed this week.

"Villagers are paying a significant amount of money for snow plowing in the township," Hartill complained.  "In many ways the Village residents are subsidizing the Town in a significant way.  That is a problem."

Supervisor Kathy Miller said that the Town Board is new this year, and as they are learning about the budget they did not want to put the Town in financial jeopardy by making major adjustments.  Miller has been critical of a 15% tax rate cut last year that was spearheaded by former Supervisor Scott Pinney and the current Deputy Supervisor Robert Cree.  Miller has said that with sewer, town center, the hydrofracking moratorium and the movement to update the Town's long range plan and zoning documents, and other unknowns, that the tax cut was ill advised.  She has chastised herself for voting for it when she was a councilwoman, and says her goal is to not raise taxes.

"I will be very honest with you," she told Hartill.  "After reducing our tax rate last year by 15%, this board wasn't ready to do something that might jeopardize the Town.  Going forward we'll certainly look at it again.  We have a tight budget at this point.  The bottom line is that none of us wanted to put the Town in any jeopardy.  We have a better handle on it now and we can do a better job."

"I think it makes sense for the two boards to get together a couple of times a year to discuss this and other things," Cree said.  "You met with us and that was a great first step, but I think it makes sense for both boards to have a joint meeting."

Two years ago Hartill began lobbying Town officials to reduce the tax burden on villagers, and lobbying at the state level to change the tax structure for all villages within towns.  He said he was exploring all options up to and including seceding from the township altogether, while Pinney said villagers would save more by merging with the town.  hartill has backed off that extreme solution since then.

It came to his attention during a spat between the Town and Village on the cost of snow plowing.  The Town had asked the Village to forego a contract that had the Town Highway Department plowing the Village at significantly below cost in favor of paying what the Town said it actually cost.  But Hartill and Village Superintendent of Public Works John Courtney said the $74,000 the Town was asking for was too much.  They said they could plow the 17.2 miles of Village roadways themselves for significantly less, and when the negotiations came to a stalemate, the Village took on the task.

That meant purchasing equipment for the Village, and stretching its small staff during snowfalls, but Hartill seems happy with the arrangement and there are no signs that he will go back to contracting the Town for plowing.  Where town Highway Department revenue comes from is another matter.  Hartill says 60% of employee salaries are for Highway Department employees who no longer work on Village roads.  Earlier this year he approached what he deemed would be a more sympathetic board to argue for a smaller tax rate for villagers.

Lansing town taxes are certainly legal, and town officials have said that the apportionment of taxes is common for villages within towns across New York state.  But Hartill says there are an increasing number of complaints about the tax from Village residents.

"This is something we should tackle in the next few months, not when we get to budget time," Miller said.  "When you get to the budget crunch you hate to have anything out of the ordinary.  These types of budget things really need to be hit early on."

The budget was passed unanimously.  Of the $4,294,632 budgeted, $2,110,380 is anticipated to come from revenues, and $553,398 from fund balance.  $1,630,853.70 will be raised in property taxes.