County releases preliminary budget numbers
SCHUYLER COUNTY--Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn indicated the tentative budget he presented to the legislature Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 29 and 30, contains a tax levy increase of $176,317, or 1.62 percent more than the current year. He said the total $11,063,665 proposed tax levy will fall within the $11,081,872 tax cap. O'Hearn said the tax rate will decrease by 1 percent in 2015, going down to $8.27 per $1,000 of assessed value from $8.38. The county also has an additional budget workshop scheduled for Friday, Oct. 3 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"I expect that the legislature will further reduce the levy and tax rate," O'Hearn said.
O'Hearn said the overall budget appropriations for the 2015 tentative budget were $44,221,389, a 3.69 percent increase over the current year. He said while all programs and services will remain intact, he is concerned with the county's operating with minimal funds in reserve.
"While we continue to struggle to provide mandated services within our means, a small amount of relief is provided in 2015 alleviating some of this pressure," O'Hearn said. "The proposed budget stays within the tax cap and represents a reduction in the tax rate for 2015. While this represents a far better position than at this time last year, I am still concerned that we are operating with minimal reserves and that this is an extremely tight spending plan. The budget does however preserve all programs and services for the coming year."
Some of the spending changes in the tentative budget include:
• Health insurance - increase of $256,000.
• Pension - decrease of $120,000.
• Highway and machinery -- increase of $1.1 million.
• Public health -- decrease in local share of $40,901.
• Mental health -- decreased local share of $103,581.
• OFA Advisory Council -- decreased local share of $194,459.
The county administrator said there will be no budgeted increase in fund balance or sales tax for the coming year. O'Hearn said the county has made several organizational consolidations in an attempt to save money.
"To date, we have successfully consolidated the civil service, payroll, and records management with human resources, [the Department of Social Services] (DSS) with youth bureau and have made organizational changes within other departments realizing savings in excess of $200,000 of local share funds annually," O'Hearn said. "As we continue to face operational challenges, it is incumbent upon us to evaluate the delivery of all services and utilize performance data in considering alternatives."
Schuyler County was also listed as a community with "significant fiscal stress" by the state comptroller's office Thursday, Sept. 25, with a fiscal stress score of 65.8 percent. These scores are based on 2013 financial information provided to the comptroller's office by local governments as of Aug. 29, 2014. O'Hearn said the major difference between Schuyler County and other municipalities in significant fiscal stress is because of the county's low fund balance, adding looking at the other criteria the county was able to stay within budget. He said if it were not for the fund balance issue, the county would not be labeled as being in significant fiscal stress.
"As the administrative arm of New York State government, counties withstand far greater fiscal stress than other levels of local government," O'Hearn said. "In Schuyler County, with almost 90 percent of our budget being consumed with the delivery of state mandated services, we have continued to succeed in the face of almost insurmountable challenges in the past few years. [...] The 2015 budget increase is minimal with significant attention being paid to improving critical infrastructure."