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County sets budget hearing for Nov. 30

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 November 2015 at 12:00 am

Chairman Callard says budget prevents tax rate increase

ALBION – Orleans County officials will have a public hearing at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 on a $64,435,941 budget. The spending plan for 2016 reduces costs from 2015 and keeps the tax rate at $9.89 per $1,000 of assessed property.

“It’s been an extremely good year,” David Callard, chairman of Legislature, said about the budget. “We’ve maintained costs, which we started six years ago and we’ve done extremely well.”

The public hearing will be at the county courthouse. Following the hearing, the Legislature will convene at the legislative chambers next door in the County Clerks’ Building to vote on the budget.

The county in recent years has worked to streamline staffing and have employees pay more towards health insurance costs. The selling of the county nursing home also reduced the county workforce by about a third.

The county’s workforce has shrunk from 416 full-time and 164 part-time positions in 2014 to 318 full-time and 89 part-time for 2016.

The $64,435,941 budget is the county’s smallest since 2007, and is down by $579,325 from the $65,015,266 in 2015. In 2014, the last year the county owned a nursing home, the budget was $79.8 million. That year the tax rate was $10.11.

Callard said efforts to fight welfare fraud are paying off with social services costs at a “historic low.” The county has reduced welfare caseloads and that will reduce welfare costs to local taxpayers by an estimated $200,000 in 2016.

The tax rate will be unchanged, but the county will take in a slight increase in taxes. The tax levy will increase by 0.7 percent from $16,209,165 to $16,323,150. Property taxes represent about 25 percent of the revenue for funding the budget.

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.

County officials don’t foresee too many additional opportunities for significant cost saving by reducing staff. Callard said the county wants to maintain the tax rate by boosting tax assessments. That can happen by addressing many of the vacant homes in the community, Callard said.

Many of those houses are owned by banks but sitting idle. The homes should be put in the hands of owners with a plan and purpose for the houses, Callard said.

Medina has started a vacant housing law that tracks the houses and assesses a fee to the owners. That law may spur the owners to take action on the properties. Callard said Medina’s law could serve as a model for other local municipalities.

“We want them to get turned over before they deteriorate,” Callard said about the houses. “We need to improve the housing stock and explore it on a countywide basis.”

There are about 250 vacant homes in the county, Callard said. He expects there will be more demand for housing with the new Pride Pak vegetable processing plant in Medina and the developments at the STAMP site across the Orleans line in Genesee County.