County details reasons for 5% tax hike

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 December 2013 at 12:00 am

Welfare, radio upgrade, nursing home main culprits

Photos by Tom Rivers – Orleans County had a public hearing on its budget tonight inside the county courthouse. Chief Administrative Officer Chuck Nesbitt is standing at the podium. About 30 people attended the hearing

ALBION – Orleans County property owners will see the average tax bill go up about 5 percent with county taxes in 2014, according to a proposed budget.

The budget totals $79,786,629, a 4.8 percent increase over the $76,133,318 in 2013. Property taxes account for about 20 percent of the revenues to pay for the budget. Property taxes would increase 5.0 percent, up from $15,661,104 to $16,441,366.

“A 5 percent increase is unacceptable,” said Paul Lauricella, vice chairman of the Orleans County Conservative Party and the lone resident to speak out during the hearing. “Come on guys, give us a break.”

The budget increases the tax rate 40 cents from $9.71 to $10.11 per $1,000 of assessed property. The fee for solid waste and recycling is up $5 to $190 for the year.

The tax impact could have been worse, but the county will see its pension contributions drop by $169,376 to $4,271,017. The county’s health insurance costs also will go down by $157,340 and worker’s compensation is budgeted to decrease by $100,376.

But the declines aren’t enough to offset other big increases, including $558,000 more for welfare costs with most of that the result of cost shifts in the Safety Net program. The county also is upgrading its emergency communication system for $7.1 million. The county will make its first $475,000 debt payment for the project next year.

“The coverage will be virtually 100 percent,” Chuck Nesbitt, the county chief administrative officer, said about the radio system’s signal strength throughout Orleans. The current system has many weak spots, especially on the eastern and western ends of the county.

“It will be an incredibly significant upgrade,” Nesbitt said.

Sprint Nextel is paying $3.3 million towards the upgrade and a federal Department of Homeland Security grant will also pay $2 million of the project.

Chuck Nesbitt details the county budget during a hearing tonight.

The county will also repair the Waterport bridge over Lake Alice for $1.5 million, with the county responsible for 5 percent of the project or $75,000. The Hulberton Road bridge will be replaced at an estimated cost of $1,386,970. The county will pay 5 percent or $69,348. The federal government pays 80 percent with the state covering the other 15 percent.

The nursing home will consume about $1.9 million from the county. The 120-bed Villages of Orleans, which the county is trying to sell, is forecast to operate at a $2,734,844 loss. The operating expenses are budgeted at $11,817,649 and revenue totals $9,986,502. That leaves a $1,831,147 gap. The county also has to pay $903,697 in debt service for recent renovations and an expansion at the site in 2007. That adds up to a $2,734,844 loss for 2014.

The county and federal government will each contribute $825,000 in Intergovernmental Transfer (IGT) shares that help offset Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates that don’t fully cover expenses.

In addition to the IGT, the county will use $1,084,844 from a reserve fund. County officials say those reserves will soon be depleted. If the nursing home stays county-owned, the tax burden would be significantly higher in the future once the reserves are gone, legislators have said.

Legislators did get some praise after the budget hearing. Charles Pettit, a member of the board of directors for the Cornell Cooperative Extension, thanked the county for not cutting the Extension. Legislators have budgeted to maintain the same funding for agencies that receive county dollars.

Here are the funded agencies and how much they receive from the county: Cornell Cooperative Extension, $219,150; Orleans Economic Development Agency, $150,000; Soil and Water, $57,750; Libraries, $10,000; Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council, $1,000; and the Sportsman’s Federation, $500.

The Legislature will meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday to vote on the budget. That meeting will be in the legislative chambers at the County Clerks’ Building.