What’s new on the plateau

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Patrick Taylor Highlands Mayor

We are entering a new budget year in Highlands. This week’s town board meeting agenda includes a public hearing on the proposed new budget. Budget planning always centers around maintaining the fiscal health of the town. I recently read an article, “What is a Fiscally Healthy City?” by Christina McFarland. It appeared in the National League of Cities weekly bulletin. Let me share a section that makes me believe Highlands is fiscally healthy. The article states: “During the International Conference on Municipal Fiscal Health hosted by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Detroit, May 21-23, elected officials, policy experts and practitioners spoke to the issue of a fiscally healthy city from their unique vantage points. Here is what they said: – Enid Slack, Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance, University of Toronto – “A fiscally healthy city is one that has the ability to provide a reasonable level of service at a reasonable tax rate, now and in the future.” – Nick A. Khouri, Michigan State Treasurer – “To achieve true fiscal health, we must address three critical issues while we have the wind at our back: long term liabilities; efficient provision of services; and new revenues.” – Eric Scorsone, Center for Local Government Finance and Policy, Michigan State University – “A city must achieve both fiscal solvency and service solvency to be fiscally healthy in a holistic way.”  – Tracey Hitchen Boyd, New York State Office of the State Comptroller – “Fiscal health requires management that accounts not only for the city’s fiscal condition, but also the environment which is shaping fiscal health, such as the effectiveness of the services provided, demographics and the economy, and the appropriate levers to pull based on these unique circumstances.” A fiscally healthy city, then, is one with a balanced budget that meets the short and long term needs of the community and is resilient in the face of economic uncertainty. This can’t be achieved overnight, but as leaders from cities that have emerged from the brink of fiscal distress can attest, political will, creativity and vision are good places to start.” The town has a fiscally healthy budget for this year. First, Highlands has a strong economy and tax base that provides robust revenue streams. The last time we increased taxes was four years ago with the one and a half cent increase per $100 earmarked for recreation capital improvements. The new budget once again has no tax increase. Second, we have little longterm debt, and most of that is interest free government loan grants. The town could pay those debts off from reserve funds, but why pay back early free money? Finally, the town board avoids unnecessary financial commitments to programs that are not sustainable.

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