Legislature approves 5.41 percent levy increase
YATES COUNTY—The Yates County Legislature approved the final $41 million 2014 budget Monday, Dec. 9, after a public hearing. Before adopting the budget, the legislatures made $219,205 in cuts and savings to bring the tax levy increase down to 5.41 percent, for a total levy of $15,453,192. The proposed tax levy increase before the meeting was at 6.9 percent.
County Administrator Sarah Purdy said the county tax rate increase will range from 20 cents to 36 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which will be determined based on where a resident lives. The total tax rates for each town after the increase range from $7.04 to $7.19 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The largest change of the night came on a motion by Legislator William Holgate to increase the projected sales tax revenue by $100,000, increasing the total from $10.2 million to $10.3 million. The motion passed in an eight to six vote. This came after a similar motion by Legislator Mark Morris to increase the sales tax revenue by $300,000 failed for a second.
At least 50 county residents were in the audience during the presentation, many of whom spoke when given the opportunity for public comment. Recently elected District Attorney Valerie Gardner spoke to the legislature outlining her plans for reducing the second assistant district attorney position from full-time to part-time. The legislature later adopted her recommendations saving a total of $47,372.
Purdy outlined the total $23,643 in additional savings in the sheriff’s department, which she said included the replacement of a retired deputy, bringing in the new deputy at a lower rate of pay. She said there was also a reduction of $8,000 in the sheriff’s utility line, down from $16,000. There was also a reduction in the treasurer’s consultant line of $23,380 and an increase in revenue from treasurer fees of $12,405.
Milo resident Dick Smith asked the legislature why they could not force the department heads for more cuts. He cited the increase in payroll and a combined more than 20 percent tax levy increase in the last two years as the main reasons why additional cuts need to be made.
“Voter sentiment is we don’t want these high increases,” Smith said.
Legislator Tim Dennis said the county has gone to their department heads asking for them to find additional efficiencies within their budgets, but adds it is difficult to do for the departments working with only one employee. He said the only way to see any significant reduction in those departments is to ask them to take a voluntary pay cut.
Gary Montgomery also spoke about a suggestion he made during a previous budget workshop to come up with an additional $500,000 in savings. He said Morris had previously attempted to use $300,000 in contingency fund to help bring the levy increase down, but his motion had failed. Montgomery said he would have liked it seen taken further to $500,000, whether it be by utilizing the contingency fund, increasing sales tax revenue, decreasing the amount of contractual spending or any combination of the three. He said the tax cap should be a good number for the legislature to work toward.
“This is not an easy situation we have got here folks,” Montgomery said. “[...] It is an unsustainable track we are on.”
Dennis warned against the altering of the sales tax revenue, saying it can become a serious problem. Dennis said if the county falls short of the budgeted amount, it would have to borrow money in order to meet its operating expenses. He said it could be done but added “it would be like having the party today while having to explain next year the 10 to 12 percent increase.”
Jim Smith of Torrey said he appreciates the legislature’s desire to build the fund balance, but added he does not see any reason why the revenue could not be increased. He said “it is a risk, but it is a risk we should certainly consider.
Morris and Legislator Robert Multer were the only legislators to vote against adopting the final budget. Morris said his policy is to not support a budget if it is growing greater than the rate of inflation. Multer said this is the first time he has ever voted against a budget, as he was not happy with the sales tax motion, saying “it does not help our fiscal issue.”