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Schuyler overrides tax cap, proposes 5.4 percent levy increase

    SCHUYLER COUNTY—The Schuyler County Legislature voted to override the state mandated "two percent" tax levy cap following the public budget hearing, Tuesday, Nov. 13.
    During the budget presentation, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn said the legislature is proposing a 5.4 percent tax levy increase for the 2013 budget.  O'Hearn presented the full proposed budget during the meeting.  He said the total budget equals $45,198,459.  The tax levy total is $10,621,721, or an increase of $550,251.  O'Hearn said the county used no fund balance reserves this year.  The tax rate, at $8.37 per $1,000 of assessed value, stays the same.
    The hearing attracted some 40 people.  There were several members of the public who spoke both for and against the tax cap override and even though the legislature passed the measure, Legislators Barbara Halpin and Doris Karius voted against it.  The legislature expects to vote on the budget itself at the December meeting.
    Karius said that while she initially supported overriding the cap during budget talks she has since had many residents call her about it.  She said she was changing her position.  Halpin argued that the state wasn't going to make changes "until we get to the point where we can no longer subsidize mandated New York state programs."
    "I can't support (the override)," said Halpin.
    "I know what it means to override it," said Legislator Glenn Larison, who supported it.  He argued that the counties were told to "stick to the tax cap" and that the mandates would be addressed, which did not happen.  He added, "New York state isn't going to listen to us.  We have to run this county to the best of our ability."
    Odessa resident Jim Halpin called the override, "a slap in the face of county taxpayers."  He added this just opens the door in future years to more easily increase taxes.  He called on the legislature to go back through the budget and make more cuts.
    Angie Franzese, Dix resident, also asked the county to go back to the budget and make cuts.  She told the legislators to not go over two percent.  She added, "a county taxpayer is a town taxpayer."  Tyrone resident Alan Hurley said he didn't see any restraint in the increase of fees.  He said the impact to taxpayers is substantial.
    Dix resident Sue Brill commended the legislature on overriding the tax cap.  She explained, "unfortunately from what I've seen, you didn't have a choice."  Brill added the state caused the problem.
    In the overview, O'Hearn said increases in the 2013 budget included:
    •  $960,000 for Medicaid, foster care, and juvenile detention costs.
    •  $700,000 for an emergency bridge replacement in Odessa.
    •  $370,000 in fund balance deficit.
    •  $302,000 in pension costs.
    •  $300,327 for health costs.
    •  $186,212 for highway and machinery.
    O'Hearn also listed areas where the county cut costs:
    •  $1.7 million from bonding capital projects.
    •  $400,000 in community college chargebacks to the towns.
    •  $175,000 for department consolidation (including the civil service and human service departments).
    •  $90,000 in agency contract reductions.
    •  $25,000 for department restructuring (Office for the Aging).
    O'Hearn explained the $400,000 in community college costs will be charged back to the towns.  The legislature also approved this measure at the meeting, with Halpin and Karius voting against it.  O'Hearn said the $400,000 is half of what the county currently pays for Schuyler residents to attend any community college in the state.  The legislature was also considering reducing the amount of sales tax the towns and villages get as an alternative reduction, but O'Hearn said that did not happen this year.
    Legislative Chairperson Dennis Fagan explained the county wanted to cut the sales tax amount to municipalities from 24 percent to 20 percent.  However, he said the county needs to give the towns and villages a six month notification to do this.  For the cut to impact the upcoming year Fagan explained the towns would need to do so voluntarily, adding the consensus was not every municipality agreed.
    However, the community college chargeback will not distribute the cost to municipalities the same way the sales tax cut will.  The cost to each town is determined by the number of residents attending community college.  Fagan said Dix, Catharine, and Montour will face the brunt of the $400,000 chargeback because they have the most students.  Legislator Phil Barnes said Dix alone faces $116,000 of that total.
    Halpin called on the legislature to distribute the chargeback cost equitably to all the municipalities, and not by number of college attendees.  She asked, why couldn't the county distribute the college tuition costs fairly just for this year?  Fagan said legally they could not.  He added that the towns that did not agree to the sales tax change this year would "sue us and they would win in court I am sure."

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