County tax rate drops 5.11 percent
SCHUYLER COUNTY--Following additional review and meetings with department heads, the Schuyler County Legislature made additional cuts to the preliminary 2017 county budget that results in a net tax rate reduction of 5.11 percent, officials said.
County Administrator Tim O'Hearn's original budget proposal called for a 3.21 percent reduction in the tax levy. As currently proposed, the 2017 tax rate would drop from $8.17 to $7.75 per $1,000 of assessed value. Both the preliminary and subsequent tentative budgets were below the state tax cap, with the current proposal under the cap by $320,842.
According to a budget summary provided by the county, the proposed tax levy for 2017 is $11,058,944, an increase of .36 percent compared with this year.
Legislators have set the public hearing on next year's proposed $46,125,520 spending plan for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14 at the county Human Services Complex in Montour Falls.
"Largely, it's a status quo budget that preserves all services and, thankfully, because we've had growth, it enabled reductions in areas to provide good news to the taxpayer," O'Hearn said.
The tentative budget preserves all county services, and there are no planned staff reductions. Key factors influencing next year's tax rate reduction include projected revenues from Del Lago and Tioga Downs casinos, in addition to revenue currently received from the Seneca Nation compact.
"We're starting to see some relief, but we're also starting to see some of the initiatives that we've implemented in the past few years start to actually pay dividends, so it's helped to stabilize if not lower the tax rate," O'Hearn said.
He cited a variety of shared services that include:
• Outsourcing the county information technology department through the Greater Southern Tier BOCES.
• Partnering with Chemung County for health insurance.
• Partnering with Yates and Chemung Counties for weights and measures.
• Sharing an assistant district attorney with Steuben County.
• Partnering with Tompkins County for assigned counsel administration in the Public Defender's Office.
• Providing mental health support and code enforcement services to Yates County.
• Agreements with some towns in the county to provide services that generate a little revenue for the county and savings to the towns.
"Those are some examples of partnerships that have saved money," O'Hearn said.
Medicaid and pension costs have leveled out after experiencing double-digit annual growth over the past decade, he said. In addition, the county will be retiring debt on its Millcreek facility this year that will reduce future debt expenditures by $225,000 annually, he said.
The area of largest growth in the proposed budget is public safety and overall law enforcement costs that include the jail, road patrol, sheriff's department, district attorney's office, public defender's office and probation department, O'Hearn said.
He pointed to significant increases in drug activity and arrests, referring to a recent methamphetamine bust in which a half-dozen of the defendants are female and must be boarded out at a cost of about $500 per day. Those costs, along with those for indigent defense and civil disobedience, have put a strain on law enforcement budgets, he said.
For the most part, department heads should be commended for their fiscally conservative approach in constructing their proposed budgets, O'Hearn said.
The legislature does not have to vote on the tentative budget at the same meeting as the public hearing, but they typically do, he said. "They certainly can make changes to it after the public hearing, but they traditionally have acted to adopt the budget at this meeting," he said.