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How do 2013 county budget increases compare?

    FINGER LAKES—On Jan. 1, 2013, the new county budgets will be in effect.
    In comparing 10 Western New York counties (Steuben, Chemung, Tompkins, Tioga, Yates, Schuyler, Ontario, Seneca, Cayuga and Livingston), Yates had the highest tax levy increase of 14.7 percent. The Yates County Legislature’s 2013 total budget is $40,837,455, which is up 3.76 percent from 2012.
    County Administrator and Budget Officer Sarah Purdy said the county has been downsizing for the last two years. For the 2013 budget, Purdy said the county is not refilling four more full time positions and one part time position.
    Purdy also said the county was forced to override the state’s two percent tax cap earlier in the year because state mandated expenses are going up an additional $2 million next year. Yates’ total state mandates for 2013 equal just under $15 million, or 102 percent of the county’s tax levy.
    Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, Schuyler County’s budget is $44,479,867 and the tax levy increase is 5.6 percent. Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn explained the county faces $9.2 million in unfunded state mandates, which constitutes 87 percent of the county’s tax levy. He said the budget was impacted by a nearly $1 million increase in juvenile detention costs for 2013. He added the situation forced the county to consider borrowing for the first time in decades.
    In order to cover a budget gap, the legislature did approve shifting $400,000 in community college costs to the towns, based on the number of enrolled students from each town. Schuyler County is responsible for $845,000 in total community college costs in 2013.
    O’Hearn said the idea is patterned after what other counties have done. He explained Chemung County charges its full cost to the towns. O’Hearn added the county looks to replace this charge back by reducing the amount of sales tax the towns will get in 2014.
    Schuyler is coupling this with department consolidations. O’Hearn previously explained the consolidation included the civil service and human service departments, while the Office for the Aging will undergo restructuring. He said this has saved on administration costs.
    Tompkins County approved a 3.69 tax levy percent increase on the total $164,776,525 budget. Tompkins Administrator Joe Mareane explained the legislature has not cut programs, but has reduced staff. He said that since 2009, the number of county employees has decreased by eight percent. Mareane added in 2013, employees will take a two percent pay increase, in addition to a significant increase in health insurance prescription co-payments. He also said this follows two years with no pay increase and a third year with a one-time $1,250 bonus.
    Tompkins’ legislature used $1.292 million in reserves. Mareane explained these funds went to cover mostly one-time purchases for new computer systems and programs to improve efficiency.
    The next lowest tax levy increase is 3.2 percent in Ontario County. The budget is $214,952,986. Ontario Director of Finance Cathy Bentzoni said the county did not implement any major cost savings programs, but did include some reductions in their road program, delaying those into the future. Bentzoni said they had the departments present as low a budget as possible while also maintaining their current level of service.
    The Steuben County Legislature approved a 2.5 percent tax levy increase on the $187,328,352 budget. Deputy County Administrator Jack Wheeler said Steuben also eliminated funding for 25 positions. He added, “it’s one of the biggest costs you can control.” Wheeler added Steuben is also using reserve funds to offset the levy. He explained they use millions of dollars each year to keep the tax rate down. However, he added, “it’s obviously not a bottomless well.”
    Wheeler said the biggest problem is state mandates. He explained 95.5 percent of the 2013 tax levy goes to cover nine unfunded state mandates. According to the New York Association of Counties the mandates (Medicaid, public assistance/safety net, child welfare, preschool special education, early intervention, indigent defense, probation, youth detention, and pensions) consume 90 percent of tax levy funds statewide.
    Livingston County’s 2013 budget contains a total tax levy increase of 1.93 percent more than the current year. The total budget amounts to $145,504,565. County Administrator Ian M. Coyle said their sales tax collections have gone up exponentially, and general cost containment practices year-in and year-out have helped keep the budget in check. He said the county normally uses a fund balance of $3 million to $4 million, but rarely spends the entirety of the allocation. Coyle said overall that holding the line on spending year to year increases the county’s control of the budget.
    Chemung County implements a community college charge back similar to Schuyler’s. County Executive Thomas Santulli explained the county passes through all college costs to the towns and cities based on the number of students. He said the measure has been in place since before 1991, when he started working for the county.
    Chemung’s 2013 budget of $177,082,893 is down .1 percent over the current year. The tax levy increase is 1.7 percent. Santulli also talked about the impact of state mandates. He said the unfunded programs cost the county all of the taxes raised by the levy and 23 percent of its sales tax revenue.
    Santulli explained the county works to implement shared services and department consolidations with the city and towns to cut costs. He said the county’s overall workforce is down 100 people compared to the year 2000. Chemung works with the other municipalities to buy highway equipment together and share the vehicles.
    Cayuga County adopted its $147,220,472 budget for next year Thursday, Dec. 13 with a 1.48 percent increase to their tax levy. Administrator Thomas Squires said the county eliminated 20 positions in two years, including five full-time and three part-time in 2013. He said the county was able to stay under the state’s tax cap limit by cutting those positions, borrowing $850,000 to pay for highway equipment, as well as using fund balance to pay for nursing home expenses. Squires said federal funding for the nursing home requires a 50 percent match by the county, so instead taxing for the money, they decided to take it out of their fund balance.
    Tioga County Budget Officer Chuck Shager said the legislature went through the budget line by line to get to a 1.35 percent tax levy increase. The budget will be $91,399,383 in total. He explained the county cut back $500,000 in equipment costs. Tioga also looked at personnel cost cuts. Shager said the legislature removed funding for 19 positions.
    Seneca County will not see a tax levy increase in the 2013 budget, as its current levy of $9,490,528 will remain unchanged. The total 2013 budget is $62,551,638. Seneca County Manager C. Mitchell Rowe said they were able to find savings by freezing wages and eliminating five positions, including one department head. He said they renegotiated their utility contracts as well as utilizing a tax stabilization fund. Rowe added the 2013 budget utilizes $4,463,591 from this fund, which was accumulated through previous years’ operating surplus.



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