Levies fall on property, rise on purchases, hotel stays
Dutchess County Executive William F.X. O’Neil on Nov. 2 released a proposed $600 million budget for 2024 that cuts property taxes but faces criticism from Democrats because he proposes seeking state approval to raise sales taxes.
The property-tax rate falls from $2.49 to $2.23 per $1,000 of assessed value, a 6 percent drop. O’Neil is also proposing an overall levy of $99.4 million, which he said is the lowest in 15 years.
But O’Neil, a Republican who was appointed to succeed Marc Molinaro when he was elected to Congress and will leave office on Dec. 31, is also proposing to increase the county sales tax rate from 3.75 percent to 4 percent.
Only six counties, including Dutchess, have sales taxes below 4 percent, according to the state Department of Taxation and Finance. Dutchess last raised its sales tax in 1990 from 3 percent; Putnam raised its sales tax in 2007 from 3.5 to 4 percent. The proposed change would push the overall rate in Dutchess to 8.375 percent; 4 percent goes to the state and 0.375 percent to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
If the higher rate takes effect in June 2024, the additional revenues would total $8.3 million next year and $17.1 million annually in subsequent years, according to O’Neil, although Dutchess residents would continue to exempt from sales taxes on clothing and shoes under $110.
The extra revenues, O’Neil said, would help offset a $16 million increase in Dutchess’ share of Medicaid and other mandated programs. He is also proposing to raise $4.8 million by increasing Dutchess’ hotel tax from 4 percent to 5 percent.
“Many factors outside of our control are driving up costs for 2024, including national inflation and Albany’s reckless spending and continued cost-shifting,” O’Neil said on Nov. 2.
Democrats quickly responded to the sales-tax hike. Yvette Valdes-Smith, a county legislator who serves as minority leader and whose district includes Ward 4 in Beacon, said in a statement that she opposes an increase and that Republicans in January rejected their proposal for a cut in the county rate to 3.625 percent.
She also renewed Democrats’ criticism of spending by Republicans on Heritage Financial Park (formerly Dutchess Stadium), which is used by the New York Yankees’ minor league team, the Hudson Valley Renegades.
Dutchess Comptroller Robin Lois, a Democrat, said in an audit released last month that a “last-minute” $25 million amendment to the county’s 2023 operating budget by the Legislature for capital improvements at the stadium was “ill advised.”
Valdes-Smith highlighted that amendment, which she said “helped create this budget crisis,” in her opposition to an increase in sales taxes. “Proposing such an increase at a time when most residents are struggling to pay bills is incompetent and shameless,” she said.
Along with the tax proposals, O’Neil’s budget plan highlights cost savings and new spending.
He said the new county jail in Poughkeepsie, the Justice and Transition Center, will save $1.8 million in overtime and another $5.5 million through “staffing efficiencies” and policies adopted by Sheriff Kirk Imperati.
O’Neil also proposes saving more than $265,000 on the county’s public bus service by “eliminating inefficiencies” on underused routes, adding trips on “the most utilized routes,” expanding hours of operation to “work and shopping destinations” and instituting other changes.
In addition, the county executive is proposing the addition of eight positions for a planned homeless shelter, and two deputy sheriffs trained as “community resource officers” to work in the City of Poughkeepsie.
The county would also support Hudson River Housing with an additional “housing navigator” and a vehicle for outreach to homeless people, and create a $200,000 grant program to expand composting by residents, with a matching grant program to help municipalities install and operate composting equipment.
Residents can view the budget documents, along with a video of O’Neil’s presentation, at dutchessny.gov/2024budget. The Legislature will hold a public hearing on Dec. 4 and vote on the budget on Dec. 7.