Some organizations want funding boost from county

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 December 2014 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – 4-H members walk miniature horses and livestock in Saturday’s Parade of Lights in Medina.

ALBION – Orleans County legislators will have a public hearing at 7 p.m. today on a proposed $65 million county budget. The spending plan proposes a cut in the tax rate, from $10.11 to $9.89 per $1,000 of assessed property.

The hearing will be at the county courthouse with a vote from the Legislature to follow at the legislative chambers next door at the County Clerks Building.

The budget doesn’t include a full year of the nursing home, which is expected to be sold early in 2015. Without the nursing home, the county expects to be spared a $1.5 million subsidy that was projected for 2015.

The county is using some of those savings to tackle bridge projects, and building improvements. It also is boosting allocations to some agencies. However, not all agencies are satisfied with the county offering.

The share to the Cornell Cooperative Extension is proposed to increase from $219,150 to $225,000. That $5,850 is less of an increase than what the county has proposed giving the Orleans County Economic Development Agency (from $150,000 to $170,000) and the Soil and Water Conservation District (from $57,750 to $75,000).

The Extension would like to get at least a $15,000 boost. That would allow the organization to bring back a coordinator for the Master Gardener program. That position was eliminated about a year ago. If the county can boost the Extension to at least $240,000, a part-time position would be added to serve the master gardeners and also work with a food preservation program, said Jennifer Wajester, the Extension executive director.

“We’re at the point where we can’t cut anymore,” she said. “We would like to be at core staff level. We believe we’ve met their (legislators’) expectations. We really need that $15,000 so we can build the consumer/horticultural program.”

The county set aside $243,500 for Extension in 2010 and then approved cuts to the agency when the county was struggling with the costs of the nursing home as well as other programs.

Extension is working towards a stronger presence in the community. The 4-H program has grown from about 300 kids a year ago to more than 350 now, plus another 65 in a club program at Kendall Central School.

Wajester and Extension officials have been trying to rally support for the agency through emails, asking supporters to press legislators for a bigger funding increase.

The four public libraries also sought an increase from $10,000 to $42,883 or $1 per county resident. But legislators aren’t inclined to raise the funding, saying libraries can already generate tax dollars on their own.

Libraries are tied to tax cap just like the county. The $1 per resident “is pretty standard” in other counties, said Emily Cebula, director of the Yates Community Library.

Library leaders met with legislators in October to state their case for more funding. Cebula said her library would use an increase to help pay for more books and other materials.

“It seems like a minimal place to start for supporting a public library,” Cebula said.

The county budget also proposes increases for the Genesee-Orleans Regional Council on the Arts from $1,000 to $3,000, and the Sportsmen Federation from $500 to $1,000.

The Cobblestone Museum remains out of the budget, and that puzzles Mary Anne Braunbach, the museum’s president. Museum leaders gave legislators tours of the complex, a National Historic Landmark, in October and co-director Matt Ballard also addressed the Legislature in October.

David Callard, the Legislature chairman, said he is sympathetic to the museum, but he said the group hasn’t submitted a formal request for funding.

Braunbach is out of town today and will miss the public hearing. She thought the museum had made its case for being in the county budget.

Callard said legislators are eyeing bigger increases to Soil and Water and the Economic Development Agency because both have a big role in supporting businesses, whether agriculture or industry, which can lead to more jobs in the county.

“We don’t have the wherewithal to do everything for everybody,” he said.

The county has directed contingency funds to some agencies, including Extension and the Cobblestone Musuem. The county last year approved $11,500 at year end from contingency. That included $4,000 to GO Art!, $2,500 to the Extension, $2,000 for Soil and Water, $2,000 to the Sportmen’s Federation and $1,000 to the Cobblestone Museum.

Callard said the county could continue to direct contingency funds at the end of the year to agencies, if the money is there. That makes it unpredictable for the agency leaders, who are working on their own budgets for 2015.