Press-Republican

November 26, 2013

Clinton County set to approve 2014 budget

By JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — The proposed 2014 budget for Clinton County includes a tax-levy increase of 0.8 percent, well below the state tax cap.

The $157 million spending plan would allow for a levy increase of up to 4.1 percent under the cap formula without an override vote being required. The formula takes into account several factors besides the rate of inflation, which for 2014 is 1.66 percent.

“This (staying below the cap) was possible first and foremost because the County Legislature has displayed fiscal constraint to minimize expenditures and diligent use of reserves and fund balances to stabilize budgets in the past,” County Administrator and Budget Officer Michael Zurlo said in his recent budget address to the legislature’s Finance Committee.

“Further, there has been a concerted effort from both management and the labor force to work within the constraints of fiscal uncertainty.”

While the state tax cap for 2014 is based at 1.66 percent, it can be adjusted for growth in taxable property, tort settlements and awards, pension-contribution increases that exceed 2 percentage points of covered payroll and a carryover of up to 1.5 percent of unused tax-levy growth to the following year, according to “New York State’s Property Tax Cap, A Citizens Guide.”

SALES-TAX BOOST

The budget plan for next year was bolstered by significant increases in sales-tax revenue that the county has enjoyed throughout this year. Revenue is about $3.2 million ahead of projections, with the holiday season, typically the busiest sales-tax time of year, still to come.

The county will also get $322,500 in payments for the sale of its home-health-care license last year to a private firm. The payments will be repeated another two years after 2014.

OBAMACARE HELPED

Zurlo said some costs are down. Most notably, the county’s Medicaid costs have dropped due to a state cap and the enactment of the federal Affordable Health-Care Act.

The act increases federal reimbursement rates to states for Medicaid for childless adults, and the states are obligated to pass a portion of that on to local counties, he explained.

That part of the act results in a reduction in the weekly share that the state charges the county for Medicaid.

Medicaid costs account for about 60 percent of the county’s tax levy, but it is down from about 70 percent.

FUND BALANCE

The county will again use $2 million from its fund balance to keep the tax levy down. The fund balance will be at about $11.2 million for 2014, which is within the state recommendation of 5 to 15 percent of the budget.

“This does not harm our fiscal position in any way,” Zurlo said.

TAX RATE

The overall composite tax rate for the county was slated to go from $6.07 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $6.10 for an increase of .5 percent. But legislators opted to use about $90,000 more from the tax-stabilization fund to keep the rate at $6.07.

The fund was established in 2011 to offset tax increases for future budgets, Zurlo said.

With assessments remaining stable in most towns and villages in the county, taxpayers’ county tax bills are not expected to go up, he said.

The total assessed property value in the county increased by $35,626,229, or 0.8 percent, for 2014.

‘WISE CHOICES’

Legislature Chairman Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru), who will step down as chairman at the end of this year, said this was a good budget to leave on.

“We’ve made some wise choices over the years, and as a result, this might have been our easiest budget year we’ve ever had,” he said.

“I know other counties are struggling, and I feel bad for them, but it’s easy for us to make decisions when you have money. But that didn’t just happen. It happened because we followed a plan we had and have been diligent, and everybody here remembers who we work for.”

Langley also said the county’s workforce has been reasonable and concerned for taxpayers, as well.

“They are not greedy, and they know what we can afford, and they’ve worked with us from day one.”

BUDGET TIMELINE

Legislators will review the budget plan over the next three weeks before voting on it Dec. 11.

A public hearing will be held Dec. 4.

Changes in the spending plan can be made up until the time of adoption.

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com