Tentative budget keeps county tax rate at $9.89

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 November 2015 at 12:00 am

ALBION – After several months of effort, Orleans County officials have put together a tentative budget for 2016 that keeps the tax rate at $9.89 per $1,000 of assessed property.

The $64,435,941 budget plan filed Friday reduces spending 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.

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.

County officials have pared other departments, and negotiated health insurance deals where employees pay more towards insurance. That has resulted in costs for salaries and benefits below what the county was paying in 2012 for non-nursing home departments, said Chuck Nesbitt, the county’s chief administrative officer.

He is also the budget officer and filed the tentative budget on Friday, before the Nov. 15 deadline. The County Legislature is expected to discuss the budget during its 4:30 p.m. meeting on Wednesday. The Legislature will also set a public hearing on Wednesday for the budget.

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.

“Weak gas prices and continued economic uncertainty causes us to look at this number with a great deal of caution,” Nesbitt says in his message with the tentative budget.

State reimbursements are also big revenue sources for the budget, but Nesbitt said the state has been slow with its share of the money, which often forces the county to use its reserve funds.

With the nursing home’s “enterprise fund” being closed out last month, some of those funds (over $2 million) will likely stay in the county’s fund balance to provide a bigger cash flow cushion. Some of the enterprise fund will also be set aside for workers’ compensation claims and a self-insurance fund.

The budget also accounts for a drop in welfare expenses as caseloads decrease and the county has more success with welfare fraud. There will also be a slight drop in community college expenses from $1,740,000 to $1,700,000 (county pays a third of tuition costs for residents from Orleans County).

Funding for agencies includes:

$232,500 for Cornell Cooperative Extension (requested $254,966) – $225,000 in 2015;

$166,500 for Economic Development Agency (requested $166,500) – $170,000 in 2015;

$77,500 for Soil and Water Conservation District (requested $85,000) – $75,000 in 2015;

$10,000 for four public libraries (requested $42,883) – $10,000 in 2015;

$5,000 for Mercy Flight (requested $5,000) – $5,000 in 2015;

* $5,000 for Friends of Mental Health (requested $5,000) – $0 in 2015;

* $3,000 for GO Art! (requested $5,000) – $3,000 in 2015;

* $1,000 for Sportsmen’s Federation (requested $1,000) – $1,000 in 2015.