Proposed 2014 county budget unveiled

Oswego County residents could see their taxes go up about 16 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation if the proposed 2014 county budget is adopted.

County Administrator Philip Church unveiled the proposed spending plan for 2014 at this week’s meeting of the legislature’s finance and personnel committee.

The proposed budget totals $197,408,657 and carries a real property tax levy (the amount to be raised by taxes) of $43,053,017. This falls within the limit of the state-mandated real property tax cap.

The proposal includes a tax rate of $7.26 per $1,000, up from $7.10 per $1,000 paid by taxpayers in 2013. Church said in his budget statement that the average Oswego County house is assessed for $94,500, so someone with this house would pay $15 more in county taxes in 2014 than in 2013.

Church said when he began putting the budget together, the tax levy (amount to be raised by taxes) was at about $48.5 million. But savings in social services costs, electricity and employee costs due to attrition and use of $5.5 million in unappropriated fund balance and reserves, he was able to pare it to $43,053,017.

He cautioned county legislators that pulling money out of fund balance and reserves must continue to slow and warned that pulling more out this year to create a 0 percent tax increase could cause problems.

“We’ve been through many lean years lately due to mandate increases and a poor economy, and as a result, our reserves and fund balance are decreasing,” said he in his budget message to the finance committee. “The annual operating budgets are not generating monies adequate to replace reserves and fund balance anymore. Add to this the unpredictable impact of Entergy’s tax certiorari, which could force the county to refund several million dollars to the company.”

Entergy, owner of the James FitzPatrick Nuclear Plant in Scriba, is challenging its assessment in court. If successful in its challenge, Entergy may be owned millions in back taxes from the county.

“The preservation of our fund balance and reserves is, therefore, imperative,” he said in the budget statement. “I strongly recommend that any further reductions identified by the legislature during the budget process be applied to lower our reliance on fund balance and reserves, rather than lower taxes.”

Church did say, though, that the $5.5 million being used in the 2014 budget is more than $1 million less than what was used in the 2013 budget, “thereby making important progress in the vital goal of reducing reliance on these declining sources.”

No one is getting raises in the proposed county budget except those in the Civil Service Employees Association union contract. There are no layoffs and no new positions being created. Eight positions are being eliminated, five were downgraded and 32 vacancies are being filled at lower salaries.

Here are positives and negatives in the proposed budget:

Positives:

** After tripling from $3.1 million in 2009 to $9.3 million in 2013, the county’s contribution to the NYS Pension System decreased slightly by $200,000.

** Medicaid is now capped at $25,614,052 and Medicaid transportation has decreased $1.65 million.

** CHiPs (highway) revenue increased more than $500,000.

** The Health Department decreased it net cost by $112,020, partially by the elimination of three positions.

** The Department of Social Services continues to implement improvements, including elimination of under-performing contracts, maximizing the productivity of the current workforce and remaining contracts. Despite significant increases in mandates services, the department’s draft budget lowers its net cost to taxpayers by more than $200,000.

Negatives:

** State mandates continue to rise in costs to local taxpayers.

** Foster care costs are increasing $600,000.

** Maintenance for the new emergency communications system is increasing $309,000 because it is the first full year on the contract.

** Health insurance for employees and retirees is going up $433,987.

** An increase in the county-paid chargeback allowed by the state for tuition payments to Cayuga Community College increased nearly 85 percent. This increased Oswego County’s community college budget from $3.8 million to $5.4 million.

The overall tax rate paid by taxpayers is down about 20 percent from 2005. The tax rate decreased from 2005 to 2008, then stayed the same for 2009, then went down again in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The rate increased from  $6.95 to $7.10 from 2912 to 2913.

The next step in the budget process is the legislature committees will review the budgets for their particular areas — for example, the public safety committee will review the sheriff’s department budget. Each committee can make recommendations for changes.

Then the finance and personnel committee will look over all recommendations and either approve them or deny them.

The full legislature must approve a final budget by Dec. 20.

 

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