Schuyler approves 2.1 percent tax increase
SCHUYLER COUNTY–The Schuyler County Legislature approved the 2012 county budget, which calls for expenditures of $42,544,846, at their regular meeting held on Monday, Dec. 12. The 2012 tax levy will be $10,070,470, an increase of 2.1 percent over the 2011 levy. The tentative budget was amended at a workshop held Nov. 30 at the request of Legislator Barbara Halpin. Although overall spending increased from the tentative budget amount of $42,397,967, the levy was ultimately lowered from $10,080,143 because of increased revenue projections and an additional general fund contribution.
Chairman Dennis Fagan explained that the tax rate increase resulted from decreased assessments, a dwindling general fund balance, and unfunded state mandates. Fagan said that the assessed property value in Schuyler County decreased by $5.7 million after several years of increases. In the past, said Fagan, the legislature had used as much as $1.1 million from the general fund to offset the tax levy. Now that the general fund is less, Fagan said that it is “prudent to reduce this offset,” even though general fund usage could have eliminated the need for a tax rate increase. Fagan also lamented the unfunded medicaid and pension state mandates that the county must endure. Medicaid costs will increase by $92,000 in 2012 while pension costs increase by $360,000.
Fagan said that if these costs were controlled the county would not need to raise taxes, but “we get no relief from the state comptroller, and no relief from the state legislature.” He then urged Barbara Halpin, the 2012 budget’s vocal opponent, to lobby state representatives and publicly support projects that would increase revenue in an effort to eliminate tax increases in the future. Halpin responded that she frequently contacted state and federal representatives to lobby for reform, and that she supports the proposed Reading liquid petroleum gas storage facility. “Talk is cheap,” she said, “it is easy to sit here and blame the state.”
Halpin then questioned why a resolution she had proposed to waive her annual raise did not appear on the agenda. Acting County Attorney Dennis Morris explained that an elected official can not lower their salary during their term. “Sometimes its about common sense,” said Halpin, “I’m not going to take the raise that the rest of the legislature is taking.” Halpin will work with the treasurer to determine how to arrange for her salary not to include a raise in 2012.
“I do not think we should be raising taxes,” she said, “there is ample evidence that Schuyler residents do not want their taxes raised.” This sentiment was mostly echoed by the members of the public in attendance. “When you have limited capital, you don’t look at what’s valuable, you look for what is necessary,” said Mark Rondinaro, “I would like to see this legislature do that.” Alan Hurley suggested that the legislature look into the property tax exemption for nonprofit corporations as a means to generate more tax revenue. Richard Scuteri then suggested that all Schuyler employees take a one percent pay cut, “except for the Sheriff’s Office.” Others spoke up to voice their concerns and displeasure with the tax increase.
Barbara Kelly took a moment to plead for the physically handicapped children’s program. She said that the program assists several families in the county who otherwise may not be able to afford medication and services. After the legislature voted to cancel funding for the program, she expressed her disappointment. “We need to speak up for our sick, our ill and especially for our children, they don’t have a voice.” She said that by canceling the program, which requires a 50 percent local match, there is potential that eventually families in need may be “unable to do it on their own,” and will end up requiring even more county assistance. Members of the public in attendance, who had previously suggested that any non mandatory program should benefit at least half of the residents in the county, quickly adjusted their position and decided this program was an exception.
The resolutions adopting the 2012 budget were approved by the legislature with Halpin accounting for the lone no vote. The legislature’s year end meeting will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 9 a.m. in the legislative chambers.