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A Closer Look at Cobleskill Budget Amid CPD Crisis

Written By Editor on 8/15/23 | 8/15/23

By Matthew Avitabile

COBLESKILL — We reviewed the mayor's statements that 83% of the village's annual general tax levy goes to the police budget. 

Forgive the math, but here is some context. Local government budgets are derived from multiple sources, often with the largest chunk coming from the municipal tax levy (local property tax). 

The Village of Cobleskill's 2023 general fund budget is $3,574,080 total, with $1,888,503, or about half, coming from local property taxes. The general fund is generally everything but water and sewer, which are funded largely through usage rents.

The mayor is correct that the salaries for the officers represent a significant portion of that, with almost $940,000 budgeted for 2023 alone. The police budget, including non-personnel expenses, does represent more than half of the total village taxes.

In addition, there are a number of other direct costs tied to the police department, including liability insurance, health insurance, and retirement costs. They’re not parted out in the budget specifically, but it is not unreasonable to believe that they represent about the percentage of the tax levy the mayor stated.

However, that’s only a part of the story. The little more than $1 million in the police budget represents less than a third of the overall budget, not 83%. The mayor did not claim that the police budget was 83% of the total, but for those not familiar with municipal budgeting, it would seem as if the vast majority of property taxes were forked over to the police. That's not the case.

There are other questions for future articles, including the fact that nearly half of Cobleskill's land value— 47.4% to be exact— is exempt from taxation, usually due to use by non-profits. Right now the village taxes on the $155,912,979 that is eligible for full valuation, while a little more than $140 million is partially or totally exempt.

The police budget has also grown in recent years, with personnel costs increasing from about $918,000 in 2019 to almost $940,000 in 2023. This is a 2.5% increase overall. 

However, what was not explained effectively at the last meeting is that the village government had cut back its police personnel budget from 2019 (about $918,000) to 2020 ($903,000) to 2021 ($880,000) to 2022 ($903,000).

Increases to the police budget have been a major portion of the village's government for years and represent a major factor in the budget's overall growth. There are two crucial elements to consider. 

Number one is that while the funding for police wages has increased by 2.5% in four years, the overall general fund has increased from $2.968 million in 2019 to $3.574 million in 2023, a 20.4% increase. Proportionally, police spending has not kept up with the remainder of the budget. 

In addition, the village has increased its fund balance (the amount left over at the end of each year) from $1.583 million in 2019 to $1.973 million in 2023. A large majority of that is "unassigned," meaning that it could be used for any purpose, including the police. the village of Cobleskill now has a fund balance of more than half of its operating budget, which the State Comptroller's Office recommends against. The state often recommends that municipalities either spend the money or lower taxes.

A closer look at the budget shows that there was a possibility for a compromise, at least as far as numbers are concerned. We will continue our research in the coming weeks and months.

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