OSWEGO, NY – Although the Oswego County Legislature hasn’t increased the average property tax rate since 2004, county government is financially prepared to protect taxpayers during budget challenges in the months to come.
That was the message that County Treasurer John Kruk and Chief Accountant Mark See told members of the Legislature’s Finance and Personnel Committee in a recent review of the 2010 Annual Financial Report for Oswego County.
“Last year, as in the past several years, we continued to increase revenues from sources other than the property tax levy,” said Kruk. “At the same time, we have cut costs and set aside funds for future purchases, employee retirement, and other major expenses. This method of managing has allowed the county to decrease the property tax levy for several years in a row, and protects the taxpayer during financially challenging times.”
“We have decreased or maintained the average tax rate for eight years,” said Legislator Arthur Ospelt, chairman of the Finance and Personnel Committee. “No other county in New York State can say that. This legislative body, department heads and staff have worked together to manage and monitor a healthy budget plan.”
The “average tax rate” is the total amount of county government expenses to be paid through property taxes, divided by the full value of all taxable properties in Oswego County.
Actual tax rates in each municipality vary depending on many factors, including the state equalization rate, workers compensation costs, and community college costs.
Legislator Ospelt said that despite the overwhelming costs of state mandated programs, several key factors help Oswego County maintain solid financial standing:
Increased sales tax revenues collected during 2010, due to improved economic conditions and higher gas prices.
Actual county expenses were up less than 1 percent.
Health insurance expenditures were down slightly.
Workers compensation costs decreased because area school districts pulled out of the county plan. This allowed the county to charge lower rates for the remaining participants. Other areas of the U.S. have seen 8 to 12 percent increases in compensation plans.
Federal and state revenues increased due to stimulus monies.
The highway department used its own manpower and equipment for major projects, saving $1.5 million that was budgeted for expenses.
Increases in other local revenues collected by departments of county government.
“The managers and department heads have done their jobs and held the line on costs,” said See. “We continue to find other sources of revenue and contain costs so that we rely less and less on the real property tax levy to pay for county government operations. Combined property taxes and pilot agreements have decreased 14.9 percent since 1995 levels.”
The County Legislature voted to set aside reserve funds to pay for large projects such as the E-911 communications project, highway and bridge construction, highway equipment, and renovation of county government buildings.
The interest earned on these accounts goes back into the specific reserve funds.
A portion of the county sales tax is returned to the city of Fulton and the towns and villages across Oswego County.
“Last year, the county returned more than $10 million in local sales tax revenue to local municipalities,” said Legislator Ospelt. “This amount is based on population and ranged from $6.1 million for the city of Fulton, to $15,231 for the village of Altmar. Those funds help pay for local services and reduce the tax burden on the local government.”
The city of Oswego has chosen not to participate in the sales tax distribution agreement.
Altogether, more than $7.2 million was returned to the towns and villages in sales tax collections, dog license fees, mortgage taxes, and plowing reimbursement for county highways last year.
The county is also mandated by the state to pay a portion of tuition for students who attend community colleges in New York State.
The number of students and cost of tuition continues to increase steadily, and amounted to $4.28 million in 2010.
The vast majority of local residents attend Cayuga Community College.
The Legislature’s Finance and Personnel Committee works closely with the Treasurer’s Office to manage the county’s finances.
In addition to Legislator Ospelt, District 12, the committee includes vice chairman Michael Kunzwiler, District 18; Fred Beardsley, District 9; Daniel Chalifoux, District 19; Louella LeClair, District 25; Milferd Potter, District 2; John Proud, District 7; and Morris Sorbello, District 23.
A summary of the 2010 annual financial report is posted on the Oswego County Web site at http://www.oswegocounty.com/treasurer/2010annualreport.pdf