Orleans cites state mandates, community college hikes for budget strain
Photos by Tom Rivers: Chuck Nesbitt, the county’s chief administrative officer, goes over the budget during a public hearing on Monday. The County Legislature approved the budget unanimously on Wednesday.
ALBION – The seven-member Orleans County Legislature on Wednesday unanimously approved a $71,031,480 budget for 2019. The budget increases spending by 1.86 percent with taxes going up by 2.51 percent.
Although the tax levy, what the county collects in taxes, increases by 2.51 percent or by $419,921, from $17,150,323 to $17,570,244, the tax rate will go up 5 cents or 0.5 percent, from $10.05 to $10.10 per $1,000 of assessed property.
The county could have increased taxes by 2.60 percent and still stayed within the tax cap.
“We have put forward a strong budget for you, a fiscally sound budget that will support infrastructure, stay under the tax cap and keep the county running for another year,” Lynne Johnson, County Legislature chairwoman, said at Monday’s public hearing at the courthouse.
The county continues to feel the strain of funding many state mandated programs, from Medicaid to indigent defense legal services, public assistance for adults and families, preschool special education, youth detention and other programs required by the state but needing local taxpayer dollars.
Those mandated programs account for 93 percent of the tax levy. That percentage has been dropping. It was 116 percent in 2013, and has fallen to 111 percent in 2014, followed by 105, 100, and 98 in 2018.
One of those programs has been on the rise. The county pays about a third of tuition for community college for residents of Orleans. The average community college chargeback rate has increased by nearly $1,000 in the past three years, from $2,932 to $3,846 and will cost the county $1.9 million next year.
Chuck Nesbitt, the county’s chief administrative officer, presented the budget during a hearing on Monday. He said county taxpayers pay less in taxes than in nearly all counties in the state.
The $769 per capita in taxes in 2017 in Orleans ranks 55th lowest of the 57 counties, Nesbitt said, while total government expenditures are 51st in the state out of 57 counties, Nesbitt said, citing data from See Through NY.
The budget hearing on Monday in the main courtroom at the County Courthouse didn’t draw any comments from the public. The hearing was mainly attended by county officials.
Other highlights of the 2019 budget include:
• A 23,000-square-foot addition to the County Administration Building is under construction. A new bond payment for the project begins next year at $437,629 for that project. There are two major obligations being retired in 2020 for the courthouse and 2022 for the radio system that should begin to relieve that pressure going forward, Nesbitt said. Those two payments account for $683,693 in the 2019 budget.
• The budget funds 430 positions and includes some additions. The Sheriff’s Office has added a School Resource Officer at the Kendall and Lyndonville school districts, with each district paying $100,000 for the deputy. Buildings and Grounds is adding an employee to assist with Solid Waste and Recycling as well as additional maintenance, and the District Attorney’s Office has budgeted for an additional part-time assistant DA to cover new duties related to Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility.
• The dome for the Orleans County Courthouse needs $140,000 in repairs. County officials have set aside the funds in the 2019 budget.
• The county will maintain funding to several outside agencies in 2019. The Cooperative Extension receives the most funding of an outside organization at $240,000. That is the same as 2018. Other funded organizations include the Orleans Economic Development Agency at $190,000, up from $180,000 in 2018; Soil and Water, $92,500, same as 2018; Four public libraries, $10,000, same as in 2018; Mercy Flight $5,000, same as 2018; Sportsman’s Federation, $4,000, up from $1,000; and GO Art!, $3,000, same as 2018;
• The budget also includes 2 percent raises for the seven county legislators. Their pay will go from $17,778 to $18,133 for the chairwoman, $13,442 to $13,711 for the vice chairman, and $11,850 to $12,087 for the other legislators.
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