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County approves budget with tax cut, more infrastructure projects

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 December 2014 at 12:00 am

ALBION – Orleans County property owners will get a break in their county taxes in 2015 after the Legislature unanimously approved a $65,012,266 budget this evening.

The budget cuts taxes by 1.5 percent and reduces the tax rate from $10.11 to $9.89 per $1,000 of assessed property.

The budget also includes a debt payment on an $8 million bond for a series of bridge, culvert and county building projects in the next three years. That payment will be covered from $260,000 in gambling money approved by the state.

“It’s been a tough five years the county has gone through,” Chuck Nesbitt, the county chief administrative officer, said at a budget hearing. “We can finally invest back in infrastructure.”

The county has been burdened in recent years with the rising costs of Medicaid ($8.4 million of the county budget in 2015) and mounting deficits with the county-owned nursing home. The growth of Medicaid for counties has been capped and the nursing home will soon be sold after Jan. 1. That eliminates some of the big increases for the county budget.

The nursing home sale will take about 100 full-time workers and another 50 part-timers off the county payroll. The change to private ownership will spare the county a projected $1.5 million taxpayer subsidy in 2015, Nesbitt said.

He thanked department heads for running tight operations in recent years, with fewer employees and delayed equipment upgrades.

David Callard, the Legislature chairman, said the county has weathered the storm and now is in a better position to tackle infrastructure and other projects.

He, too, praised the county department heads for their efforts to control costs and provide needed services.

“We’re very fortunate and grateful to have people as outstanding as you,” Callard said after the hearing when the county voted to pass the budget.

The budget was unchanged from the tentative budget presented by Nesbitt on Nov. 12. Only one resident besides the county officials spoke at the public hearing.

Charles Pettit, a Ridgeway farmer and member of the Cornell Cooperative Extension board of directors, thanked the group for its funding for the agency.

The Legislature gave the Cornell Cooperative Extension an increase from $219,150 to $225,000. The Extension wanted more to bring back a part-time master gardener coordinator who would work in food preservation.

“You folks don’t have a big enough pile of money to work with and we don’t have a big enough pile of money to work with,” Pettit said during the hearing.

He also thanked the county for committing to replace six bridges in the next three years. He worries about the state-owned canal bridges. Many have weight restrictions that keep farm equipment and emergency vehicles from using them.

“If we don’t do something with them soon we’re in trouble,” Pettit said.

While the budget allows the county to increase services and projects, Nesbitt said the state-mandated programs continue to strain the county budget. Nine mandated programs represent 105 percent of the county’s $16,209,165 tax levy. That eats up some of the county’s sales tax revenue as well.

To make a significant dent in local county taxes, the state will need to fund its own programs, and stop consuming so many county dollars, Nesbitt said.

Even with the state mandates, the 2015 budget offers lots of good news for residents, Nesbitt said.

“It’s great to come here and say we’re cutting taxes and improving services, he said.