Legislature approves 2016 budget
YATES COUNTY--The official 2016 Yates County budget was approved by the legislature following a public hearing Monday, Nov. 23. Despite some debate, the budget was passed without any changes being made. The budget passed in a 10 to three vote, with legislators Elden Morrison, Mark Morris and Gary Montgomery voting against approval. Legislator Leslie Church was not in attendance during the meeting.
The 2016 county budget contains a total property tax levy of $16,023,444, a $213,112 (1.35 percent) increase from the 2015 budget. However, the property tax rate will decrease 2.73 percent in 2016 due to an increase in taxable valuation. The 2016 tax rate is proposed to be $6.71 per $1,000 of assessed value, down $0.19 from 2015's tax rate of $6.90 per $1,000.
The county's total budget expenditures are projected to be $41,893,513 in 2016, down $846,903 (1.98 percent) from 2015. However, the revenue side of the budget also projects a decrease in 2016. The total expected revenue is $23,980,984, down $741,333 (3 percent) from 2015.
The main discussion by the legislature revolved around a proposed addition of some $30,000 to conduct an independent public safety cost reduction study, namely focusing on the jail and law enforcement. The motion was proposed by Morrison, who claimed the previous studies done on the sheriff's department were conducted by other law enforcement agencies, and that he wanted an independent one to see if there were additional cost saving measures that could be taken.
Legislator Bill Holgate opposed the idea, saying the county just added corrections officers and a deputy because they needed to combat rising overtime costs, adding he would rather use the proposed money to help fund another study. He added a lot of the debate the legislators have had regarding public safety costs at committee meetings has been based off of the state comptroller'swww.openbookny.com site, which he noted "doesn't make any sense at all."
Legislator Dan Banach agreed, adding the county has a tendency to conduct a study and then do nothing with it. Montgomery supported the study, adding instead of constantly debating the issue, they should get the study done to help put this issue behind them. Legislator Margaret Dunn noted every time the study gets brought up, it gets voted down by a majority of the legislators. Legislator Leeland Sackett added a study does not necessarily mean the county will save money, and the county needs to be prepared to hire more employees if the study finds they need more.
"It is a two-way street," Sackett added.
Legislator Doug Paddock said the addition of $30,000 would put the county over the tax cap, but Morrison suggested they could find other areas to cut or use more fund balance in order to avoid going over. While Holgate said the legislature needs to do what is right for Yates County instead of worrying how it compares to other counties, Morris said that was the exact reason the comptroller started the website. Morris added Yates County is average in costs compared to most counties, but that the public safety numbers are unusually high for Yates compared to other areas. Holgate said he has been working with Bonnie Percy to better understand the openbookny.com numbers, proposing perhaps forming a small committee of legislators to look at the numbers together. However, when the time came for the vote on the jail study, it failed with only Morrison, Morris and Montgomery in favor.
During the public hearing, resident Tim Hansen addressed his concerns with the growing drug problem in Yates County, asking the legislature to add some $200,000 into the public safety budget to hire an investigator, an officer and to purchase a patrol car. He added he does not think this is the right time to cut public safety costs when there is such a big heroin problem in the county. Hansen said this could be accomplished with most residents only seeing an increase of what it would cost to purchase "a case and a half of Coca Cola."
"I'm actually here to tell you to raise my taxes," Hansen said.
Resident Peter Gamba also spoke during the hearing outlining his concerns with the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) associated with the restart of the Greenidge power plant in Dresden. However, Legislative Chairman Tim Dennis said the PILOT payments are not in the budget for this year.