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County passes budget with no increase in tax rate

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 December 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Orleans County officials presented a $64,435,941 budget plan during a public hearing Monday evening in the main courtroom at the Orleans County Courthouse. Chuck Nesbitt, the chief administrator, provides details about the budget. Most of the attendees at the hearing were county department heads.

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature approved a $64,435,941 budget for 2016 on Monday evening, a spending plan that reduces overall spending and holds the tax rate at $9.89 per $1,000 of assessed property.

County officials have worked in recent years to reduce the county workforce by streamlining departments and sharing services with other counties. The Legislature also sold the nursing home to a private company.

That has resulted in some tax relief for residents. (The tax rate was $10.11 per $1,000 in 2014). Local residents also should receive a rebate check from New York, which will make the state look like the heroes when it was the local governments that pared down costs, said Chuck Nesbitt, the county chief administrative officer.

He said the state could provide significant relief to local taxpayers by reining in some of the state-mandated programs or assuming more of the expense for the programs.

“The state captures dollars from taxpayers and they do it in a lot of ways that you may not be aware of,” Nesbitt said during a budget hearing.

Nine state-mandated programs – Medicaid, Child Welfare, Temporary Assistance/Safety Net, Indigent Defense, Early Intervention, Preschool Special Education, Probation, Youth Detention and Pensions – account for 100 percent of the county’s tax levy of $16,323,150.

Although the tax rate is unchanged, taxes in the county budget are up by 0.7 percent, which is under the tax cap allotment of 1.4 percent.

Nesbitt, as he has in recent years, railed against the state for not taking more action on mandate relief. He pointed to a study by Pew Charitable Trust that looked at all 50 states and how they receive revenue for state programs. (Click here to see that report.)

Local governments provide 2.2 percent of funding for state programs as a national average. However, in New York the local governments pay 15.4 percent, by far the most in the country. Wyoming is No. 2 at 3.9 percent.

“When someone asks, ‘Why are my taxes so high?’ There’s the answer,” Nesbitt said during the hearing. “That’s what’s different about us.”

He urged local residents to press state officials to reduce the local share for state programs. That would have a big impact on lowering local taxes, Nesbitt said.

Instead, Gov. Cuomo and many state legislators point the finger at the local governments as the culprit for high taxes. The upcoming rebate checks, a reward for local governments that stayed under the tax cap and met an efficiency plan, are a “smoke screen,” Nesbitt said.

Paul Lauricella tells the Legislature the group should have reduced the tax rate instead of keeping it at the same level.

Paul Lauricella of Lyndonville said he wanted to see more reductions and a tax cut in the budget, especially with the nursing home no longer under county control.

He suggested the county pull back on its contributions to agencies, such as the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Orleans Economic Development Agency and Soil and Water Conservation District. Lauricella said those groups all have ways of generating their own funds.

The county budget provides the following funding for agencies with 2015 in parentheses: $232,500 for Cornell Cooperative Extension ($225,000); $166,500 for Economic Development Agency ($170,000); $77,500 for Soil and Water Conservation District ($75,000); $10,000 for four public libraries ($10,000); $5,000 for Mercy Flight ($5,000); $5,000 for Friends of Mental Health ($0); $3,000 for GO Art! ($3,000); $1,000 for Sportsmen’s Federation ($1,000).

Ed Neal, president of the Cooperative Extension board, thanked the county for keeping the agency in the budget and providing an increase. Neal said the agency provides important services for agriculture, children and families.

Joe Sidonio of Murray thanks the county for not cutting dollars to the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Sidonio said his daughter has benefitted from the 4-H program.

Nesbitt said the county is also working to build up its reserve funds and tackle infrastructure projects. Two bridges and two culverts will be replaced in 2016.

Sales tax also represents about a quarter of the revenue for the budget. After budgeting for no increases in 2014 and 2015, county officials are going to recommend another $250,000 in sales tax to $14,035,000.

After the public hearing, the Legislature convened in the legislative chambers and passed the budget.