Press-Republican

October 2, 2013

Tax up 8.76% in tentative Franklin County budget

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — The 2014 Franklin County tentative budget has an 8.76 percent tax-levy increase, no layoffs and a precautionary recommendation to override the mandated-tax cap.

County Manager and Budget Officer Thomas Leitz filed the spending plan Tuesday and said legislators will hold a series of workshops shortly to try to reduce the anticipated tax impact.

The overall tentative budget is $103,623,666, an increase of 3.09 percent from this year.

The tax levy, or amount to be raised by taxes, is $16,178,524, up 8.76 percent.

Equalization rates for municipalities are not available yet, but the average tax increase for a home valued at $100,000 would be $35.28, Leitz said.

He will recommend the county pass a local law to override the state-mandated tax cap, as a precaution in case legislators can’t get the tax levy under 1.66 percent.

SHERIFF’S STAFF

The Sheriff’s Department budget will remain at 2013 levels, but three officers will be added, as required by an agreement with the State Commission on Corrections on staff size.

Leitz said the three staffers added in 2013, coupled with three more in 2014, should help eliminate overtime and per-diem expenses.

The deputies’ union membership recently rejected a mediated settlement that would have given them a 2-percent pay raise retroactive to Aug. 21, a 2-percent raise in 2014 and a 2.5-percent raise in 2015.

Leitz said he planned for those terms when he compiled the budget, anticipating a settlement that also includes the deputies using the same health-insurance plan and generic drugs.

REVENUE PROJECTIONS

The overall budget includes the anticipated continuation of revenue from slot-machine profits at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino, which is expected to be $3.5 million; sales-tax revenue to remain stable at 2013 levels; and slightly lower pension costs.

Leitz said the county could save $1 million by following his recommendation to participate in a State Retirement stabilization program, paying a little less than the amount owed but spreading the payback across 12 years at a low-interest rate.

“You hate to do it,” Leitz said. “I will be recommending this to the board,” adding that if legislators don’t do it, the tentative tax levy could climb as much as 7-percent higher.

NO LAYOFFS

He said no layoffs are planned.

“They are a last resort. We’re not overstaffed in the county, so layoffs could be extremely difficult,” the county manager said.

New positions would be added at the Treasurer’s Department, the Conflict Defenders Office and Public Defenders Office in the 2014 budget, with the last two jobs added after July 1 to save on salary and benefits.

About $35,000 is included to tear down blighted county-owned properties.

NURSING HOME MERGER

Leitz said the county’s financial picture improves when the County Nursing Home closes by the end of 2014 through a merger with Alice Hyde Medical Center’s nursing home.

But $200,000 is being set aside in the budget for “unforeseen expenses or revenue shortfalls” as employees leave for other jobs and fewer patients are admitted and served during the transition.

FISCAL STRESS

Leitz said the county has been using up its reserves to stay under New York’s property-tax cap and fund state-mandated programs.

He says a State Comptroller’s Office report labeling Franklin County as being under fiscal stress is offensive in that it points out the county’s financial shortcomings, “but not the cause.”

A State Association of Counties report states that roughly 90 percent of a county’s tax levy goes to pay for nine mandated programs, but Leitz said that in Franklin County, it is more like 140 percent of the levy goes to these programs.

They include Medicaid, public assistance/safety net; child welfare protective and preventive care; special education; preschool/early childhood intervention; probation; indigent defense; youth detention; and pensions.

He said the growing caseload of public-assistance clients alone has increased the overall budget by $1.36 million, he said.

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com