County administrator says tax increase ‘inevitable’ in next budget

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 September 2020 at 10:11 am

‘I can’t think of a worse scenario than we’ve been dealt with’ – County CAO Jack Welch

Jack Welch

ALBION – Orleans County taxpayers should expect an increase in 2021 in their county tax bills.

“It’s inevitable,” said Jack Welch, the county chief administrative officer. “I can’t think of a worse scenario than we’ve been dealt with.”

Welch spoke at last week’s Orleans County Association of Municipalities and outlined multiple budget challenges for the county, including a significant jump in health insurance costs, rising pension contributions and reductions and delays in state reimbursements.

The county operates on a $71 million budget with 415 employees in 24 departments. The county in 2020 relied on property taxes for $18,009,699 of the budget. Property owners pay a $10.10 rate per $1,000 of assessed property in 2020.

Sales tax, at about $17 million, is another major source of revenue that is expected to be down this year.

Welch, county legislators and department heads are working to put together the 2021 budget. Welch has until Nov. 15 to submit a tentative budget that will then go through a public review before likely be adopted in early December. The new fiscal year starts Jan. 1.

Welch was hoping a federal stimulus package would provide significant funding for the county and state, to help get through the fiscal crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. But that money may not be coming. The U.S. Senate and President Trump have now shifted their attention to filling a Supreme Court vacancy.

“We have been waiting for federal action,” Welch said. “But the Supreme Court justice is sucking the air out of the room.”

Welch said the county is looking at possibly delaying some projects and will be evaluating every expense and position.

The towns can also expect bills from the county for election expenses which have been covered by a state grant. That grant expires in November.

Welch, speaking with town and village officials last week, said the state funding helped pay for early voting, electronic voting books and electronic voting machines. Some of those costs will be passed to the towns. Welch said each of the 10 towns can expect about $3,000 in added election costs in 2021 that were being paid by the state.

“We have some challenges,” Welch said. “It doesn’t look good.”

The County Legislature has set a public hearing for 4:25 p.m. on Oct. 28 for a local law to override the tax cap in 2021. The cap for next year allows up to a 1.56 percent increase. Municipalities have the option of overriding the cap.

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