By ADAM ATKINSON
CANTON -- The town board here has approved their proposed 2018 budget and tax rate. The fiscal plan for the coming year calls for expenditures of $2,738,882, keeping the town below the tax cap for the fifth straight year.
The budget will raise the tax rate 5 cents to $2.60 from the 2017 rate of $2.55 per $1,000 of assessed property value for town residents.
The total proposed tax levy will be $1,254,857 versus $1,222,489 in 2017 and the general tax levy for 2018 is $973,780 versus $946,029 in 2017.
The board approved the plan after a public hearing was held Wednesday, Oct. 8, during their regular meeting. The hearing was attended by only a handful of town residents.
During the sparse discussion on the budget, town councilman Bob Washo asked if the board would want to place the additional $60,000 allocated to the supervisor’s office in the 2018 budget to hire a bookkeeping firm in a contingency fund.
Once in the fund, the board would have to approve the release of that funding to the supervisor’s office, giving the council some say and oversight, albeit indirectly, over the firm hired by the supervisor to handle the bookkeeping.
“It would certainly give you input you don’t have now,” said town attorney Charles Nash during discussion.
Under town law, the supervisor has discretion over the spending of his or her department’s budget within the accounting restrictions approved by the board in the general fund.
A recent controversy surfaced over the last several weeks over how the town’s bookkeeping was paid for under the confines of outgoing Supervisor David Button’s budgets since 2015.
Criticism by the public of Button over the issue centered around his redistribution of the money from his wife who traditionally did the job and then retired in 2015, to himself after he took over the bookkeeping duties. While he did have the discretion to handle his department’s budget as he saw fit, the increase in his individual salary as an elected official required board consideration and approval, which was not obtained.
To repair the situation, the board passed several resolutions, the Buttons returned the money allowing the board to redistribute the funds properly, and the state comptroller’s office has been called in to conduct an audit of the town’s finances.
The issue also ultimately led to the hiring of an outside firm to take over the work for the remainder of the current year. The board and Supervisor Button have allocated the $60,000 in the 2018 plan for Supervisor-elect Mary Ann Ashley to hire an outside accounting firm at her discretion after she assumes office in January.
The board briefly discussed the issue of a contingency fund to hold the money, but no action was taken.
Other highlights of the budget show highway expenditures as the single largest part of the budget, owning 54 percent of the 2018 town expenses.
Also included are increases of 2 percent for the recreation department, 2 percent for the allocations to the four fire departments which operate in the town and a 1.5 percent increase in pay for town employees.