Budget gets approval in Schuyler
SCHUYLER--The Schuyler County Legislature has approved a tentative budget for 2021 that has a reduced tax rate of 0.63 percent and a flat tax levy despite reductions in revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed budget, which stands at $49,471,887, was approved unanimously.
"I warned everyone that historical trends indicated a recession was on the horizon (but this was extreme)," said Tim O'Hearn, Schuyler County administrator and budget officer. "Despite that, this is the ninth year in a row that the tax rate has been reduced... and we would not have been able to do it without our employees."
O'Hearn said reducing the tax rate was directly the result of not only reducing budgetary expenses but also getting every employee in the county, appointed, elected or otherwise to agree to a salary freeze for 2021.
"County governments have been on the front lines fighting the pandemic and it has taken a toll," O'Hearn said. "County services were never interrupted, we changed how we did it but we were open and had continuity of government the whole time. We are not back to 100 percent and we hope we will be soon but we continue to function and I don't think that people appreciate the challenges that our employees faced, not only personal health but working on behalf of our citizens. We are a safety net, we provide services others won't or can't and our staff is our greatest asset."
The proposed budget stays within the tax cap due to the fact that there is no increase in the tax levy. The proposed levy stands at $11,323,706.
"This could have been a great year to raise taxes, if there was a year to do it this was it... but if there was also a year to not raise taxes this was it because (Schuyler residents) are under enough pressure as it is," O'Hearn said.
While the proposed budget has decreased, so has the amount of revenue taken in by the county, which O'Hearn said is estimated to be roughly $1 million. Along with the reduction in revenue, O'Hearn said there has also been a $2 million reduction in state aid, $100,000 less revenue generated from gaming and another additional $260,000 in expenses.
"The way we mitigated the losses was through staff furloughs (and salary freezes), suspension of capital projects and other cost savings initiatives, and a strong reserve fund," O'Hearn said.
As a result of the pandemic and the budget shortfall, O'Hearn said the county reserve fund would decrease by roughly $1 million to roughly $9.5 million.
Legislative members echoed O'Hearn's sentiment towards county employees following his presentation and also singled out O'Hearn for navigating the county through such turbulent waters during the pandemic.