County Administrator Unveils Proposed 2011 Budget

OSWEGO, NY – The proposed Oswego County budget for 2011 contains a slight decrease in the tax rate.

The $189,363,300 tentative spending plan was unveiled today (Oct. 5) by County Administrator Phil Church at the Finance and Personnel Committee meeting.

The tax rate slips to $7.07 per $1,000 assessed (from this year’s $7.16).

“It is no secret that in 2011 we are being impacted by the highest increases in the costs of New York State and federal mandates we’ve experienced in recent years,” Church said. “We are able to keep a stable tax rate and provide a small decrease because for the past several years, we’ve budgeted with the philosophy that when times are good plan and save for when times are bad. We’ve maintained fund balance and bolstered our reserves each year, allowing us to draw on these resources during the recession and state budget crisis.”

This has allowed the county to shield property taxpayers from the financial pressures the county is feeling, mainly from the state, Church pointed out.

The legislature, treasurer’s office and the administrator’s office have been managing the use of the county’s fund balance and reserves in a multi-year strategy designed to mitigate increasing costs and get the county through to 2012.

In 2012, all the nuclear plants will either be back on the tax rolls or in new tax agreements with increased payments to the county.

In 2012, with additional revenues expected from the nuclear power plants at Nine Mile Point, Oswego County should be in good position to again protect taxpayers from manadate increases and reduce its reliance on fund balance and reserves, the county administrator said, adding, “I strongly recommend we continue this strategy.”

“Due to the state shifting its own costs to the county taxpayers, this budget is the most challenging since my original appointment in 2007,” Church said.

He thanked the members of the legislature for their input and guidance. He is also grateful to the department heads and their staffs for their work and cooperation; several of who identified reductions in costs and personnel.

“As always, I appreciate the daily year-long work and assistance of Budget Analysis Steve Loadwick, Chief Accountant Mark See and County Treasurer John Kruk,” Church noted.

He highlighted a few negative and positive factors regarding the budget proposal.

On the negative side, the NYS retirement cost to the county will be $2,225,000 more next year. That is on top of the $1,900,000 more required in 2010.

Other increases include state and federal Medicaid ($676,000 more) and the debt on the county’s new radio system ($787,000 to $2 million).

The main negative impact on the county budget is state’s mandates and cost-shifting, Church pointed out.

“New York State has, in effect, created a New York State property tax camouflaged within county budgets. Here are some thoughts to consider. Estimating conservatively, New York State has placed over $5 million of new pressure on our tax levy fort next year. That is equivalent to 13 percent of our tax levy,” Church explained. “New York costs in just two mandates (retirement and Medicaid) ate up $400,000 more than the $2.5 million gained from the Nine Mile Point Unit 1 tax agreement. If New York State paid for the $24 million in Medicaid benefits they mandate we provide, Oswego County’s tax levy would drop by 65 percent.”

Besides the additional funds from the tax agreement with Nine Mile, there are other positives in the proposed budget, Church said.

The savings generated by the county’s delayed hiring/vacancy review process can be placed in its retirement reserve to pay for most of the increase in the state’s retirement system.

“Our reliance on this reserve will decrease in the 2011 budget by $300,000,” the county administrator said.

Also, Oswego County is one of the few counties n which he sales tax revenue has increased. It is projected to increase to $5000,000.

Other positives cited by the county administrator include:

  • A new emphasis on preventive services has contributed to reducing foster care costs by $2 million
  • All vehicle and equipment requests were cut from the operating budget and will be purchased through reserves held for that purpose
  • The Fire School is budgeted for self-sufficiency in 2011
  • Full value of property in Oswego County increased by $45 million, helping to lower tax rates
  • Option to pay only interest on radio system in 2011.

“For the first time in many years, Oswego County has a debt service to pay. This is, of course, for the new emergency radio communications system currently under construction. The debt adds $2 million to the property tax levy every year until 2021,” Church said. “There is an option to pay only the interest in 2011 and defer payment on 2011’s principal spread over 10 years until 2021.”

Under that option, the county would pay $787,900 in 2011 and just under $2.2 million each year thereafter.

Under normal circumstances, Church said he’d recommend that the county pay the full interest and principal in 2011, resulting in a tax levy increase of 3 percent.

“However, we are not living under normal circumstances. I am mindful of the impact of the recession on our residents and businesses, the high unemployment rate and the desire to keep taxes from increasing,” he explained. “Therefore, this budget is presented to the legislature with the option paying only interest in 2011.”

Under state law, the county budget must be adopted by Dec. 20.

The standing committees will review the tentative budget of their jurisdictional departments during their October and November meetings.

The committees may make recommendations for changes to the Finance and Personnel Committee, which meets Dec. 7 and they can approve or reject the requests.

Once the budget passes the Finance and Personnel Committee, it will go to the full legislature for a public hearing and deliberation on Dec. 16.