County outlines $73 million budget that stays under tax cap

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 December 2020 at 4:27 pm

Administrator says state mandates dominate tax levy

ALBION – Orleans County officials went over a proposed $73 million budget for 2021 that would increase the tax levy by 1.66 percent. That stays under the county’s allowable tax cap of 1.75 percent.

The county had $314,749 in allowable growth in the levy. The budget came in with about a $15,000 cushion before hitting the tax cap, said Jack Welch, the county’s chief administrative officer. The 2021 budget is his first one since taking over as top administrator in March.

The budget would increase spending by 2.16 percent, from $71,711,638 to $73,262,025. The tax rate would increase by 1.11 percent or 11 cents, from $9,87 to $9.98 per $1,000 of assessed property.

“The 2021 budget moves us in the right direction, keeps the services our residents depend on, stays within the tax cap and fights Covid,” County Legislature Chair Lynne Johnson said during a budget hearing on Monday evening.

That hearing was conducted through Zoom video conferencing due to Covid-19 concerns and restrictions. About 40 people participated in the Zoom conference.

The Legislature is scheduled to vote on the budget at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday in a meeting to be conducted through Zoom.

Johnson praised the county employees for their efforts the past eight months during a pandemic. All of the departments have needed to change the way they provide services.

The Covid pandemic has been “the greatest public health threat” during the lifetimes of the current legislators and cunty officials, she said.

“The departments stepped up and mobilized like never before,” Johnson said.

She also praised the county workforce for their sacrifices. There were 34 employees temporarily laid off in late April and 10 other positions weren’t filled due to fiscal constraints from the pandemic.

The proposed budget would eliminate 8 full-time jobs and 12 part-time positions from 2020. The county will down 8 full-time positions from 333 to 325.

Department heads followed the push from the Legislature to submit “no frills” budgets, Johnson said.

Johnson remains hopeful the federal government will come through with a relief package for local governments. But with no funding yet approved by Congress for localities, Johnson said the county officials had to act and craft a budget that stays under the tax cap but also maintains existing programs.

“It is our investment in people and services,” she said. “It shows we are here to serve you and continue to serve you in a responsible way.”

Nine mandated programs from the state account for more than 90 percent of the tax levy, Welch said. Those “9 for 90” mandates and their county cost include: Medicaid, $8,121,776; Pension, $3,054,489; Public Assistance/Safety Net, $1,802,337; Child Welfare/Protection, $1,336,399; Special Education, $971,931; Probation, $759,299; Indigent Defense, $536,053; Youth Detention, $302,650; and Early Intervention, $204,688.

Those nine mandated costs add up to $17,089,622, or 93 percent of the $18,309,497 tax levy.

Some other highlights include:

• The budget allocates $2,577,00 in capital projects — $1,225,000 for highway reconstruction with state CHIPS money (down 20%), $1,152,000 in preventive maintenance on four bridges (funded through federal TIP funds), and $100,000 in county funds for culvert and bridge repairs, and $100,000 in local funds to patch and seal county roads.

• Sales tax is currently slightly above the receipts in 2019. That convinced county officials to budget $400,000 more in sales tax in 2021, to $16,175,000.

• The budget also maintains funding to outside agencies. They didn’t face a funding cut, and they didn’t get an increase.

Those agencies and organizations in the budget include: $240,000 to Cornell Cooperative Extension, $190,000 to Orleans Economic Development Agency, $92,500 to Soil & Water Conservation District, $10,000 to be shared among four public libraries, $5,000 to Mercy Flight, $4,000 to Sportsmen Federation, and $3,000 to GO Art!

• The fee for solid waste and recycling service will be $216, which is a 2percent increase from 2020.

• The budget also calls for 2 percent raises for the seven county legislators. Their pay will go from $18,496 to $18,886 for the chair, $13,985 to $14,265 for the vice chair, and from $12,329 to $12,576 for the other five legislators.