The county's Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on the tentative budget Monday night.
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“My family has been in Wilmington for over 120 years,” said Diane Kirby. “My grandfather’s farm was lost to taxes. ... That’s something my children, my grandchildren - we can’t ever get back.”
Kirby, a Wilmington resident, asked lawmakers not to hike the tax levy by 26 percent in next year’s budget. She spoke at a public hearing on the tentative spending plan Monday night in Elizabethtown.
“In my extended family, this year, I have someone who lost his home,” Kirby said. “He could not pay his taxes and the mortgage, and he lost it. I don’t know what the answer is. ... These are families that are losing their homes if you put 24, 26 percent on top of these people.”
Kirby was one of just three people who spoke during the hearing. It was a sharp contrast to one held last year at this time, when some 150 people packed the county courthouse and asked supervisors to actually increase taxes in order to save jobs and services.
The three speakers at Monday’s hearing all agreed that the budget needs to be cut more before it’s adopted.
Jay resident Harold Akey said the board should try reducing its payroll to save money.
“I know that’s a tough decision to be made at any level,” Akey said. “At a private sector or a public sector (level), payroll is the last thing you want to cut. People don’t want to lose their jobs, people don’t want to take salary cuts, but the fiscal crisis that EssexCounty is in - the nation is - those are some of the realistic viewpoints we have.”
Eight state-mandated county services will increase in cost by about $1.7 million next year, accounting for about 10 percent of the tax levy increase. The county also has to budget $2.3 million for the Horace Nye Nursing Home. A company from New York Cityplans to buy the facility, but the sale isn’t final. That expense represents about 14 percent of the tax hike.
Those items alone make up 24 percent of the projected 26 percent tax increase.
Wilmingtontown Supervisor Randy Preston said meeting the state’s 2 percent tax cap might be impossible, but the board needs to try anyway.
“There is nobody here that would pass a budget of this size in their own town, and we need to think about that when we get down to the nitty gritty and work through this in the next few weeks,” he said.
Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava agreed.
“The easy thing to do here is to raise the taxes,” he said. “The difficult thing to do is to cut some services and find some ways that we can save, and that’s pretty much what we’re going to end up doing here.”
Monday night’s public hearing was recessed and is expected to continue on Dec. 10, so the public will have another chance to weigh in.
The county must adopt its final budget by Dec. 20.