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Administrator Releases 2011 Tentative Budget

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Administrator Releases 2011 Tentative Budget

Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Tompkins County Administrator Joe Mareane has delivered to the County Legislature a 2011 Tentative County Budget that employs a balanced approach to address unprecedented fiscal challenges. The budget holds the line on spending and calls for program reductions to fill a $4.7 million budget gap, while meeting the Legislature's goal of increasing the tax levy by no more than 5%.

The recommended budget totals $74.4 million in local dollar spending, an increase of 0.6% over the 2010 budget, in spite of substantial increases in mandated spending. It closes a $4.7 million budget gap through a balanced mix of revenue increases and spending decreases, producing a $1.9 million (5%) property tax levy increase coupled with a $2 million spending reduction. Some spending reductions will affect entire programs. The Budget also applies $780,000 in one-time federal stimulus money to fill the gap left by the State's delay in approving the county's request to authorize a new local mortgage tax. The County tax rate would increase from $6.00 to $6.41 per $1,000 of assessed value, resulting in a $66 per year increase for an average $160,000 home.

In a budget message accompanying the budget document, Administrator Mareane notes the budget reflects the County's response to an economy slowly recovering from a deep recession. That has resulted in an increased reliance on mandated services provided by the County and a diminished capacity of taxpayers to pay for them. The ripple effects of the economy have an indirect, but significant, effect on the County's 2011 budget. Pension costs, for example, are being increased by the State to make up for substantial investment losses suffered over the past few years. The County's pension bill will rise by 40% in 2011 after going up 50% in 2010. The budget represents "a balanced approach to uncertain times," seeking to balance the community's ability to pay with its need for services, raising revenues, reducing expenses, and making prudent use of one-time aid.

"Although balanced, the budget requires significant spending reductions," cautions Administrator Mareance. "That is particularly difficult in a lean government that has already cut spending and is careful to provide only those services that are truly needed by the community. However, the County cannot simply afford to do all that it used to. We require a path of fiscal responsibility committed to living within our means." The greatest challenge, he says, is "to find a new balance of services that allocates our limited resources to the areas of greatest need and impact."

Departments were directed to reduce non-mandated local dollar spending by 6.9%; items unable to be supported in the target budget could submitted as an over target request (OTR). The Tentative Budget funds only $1.5 million of nearly $3.4 million in OTRs submitted for recurring target funding and recommends most of the $500,000 requested for one-time expenses. Among OTRs not funded in the Tentative Budget: Department of Social Services funding to support many child welfare services provided by local agencies; Probation Department funding to prevent reduction of the Day Reporting program to half-day operation; and support to prevent staff reductions in the Highway Division.

Calling the budget the product of hundreds of difficult decisions about the allocation of scarce resources, Mareane cautions spending cuts can no longer be achieved simply through across-the-board reductions. "My Tentative Budget proposes the elimination of whole programs and the reduction of many others," he notes. "Every one of these programs is valuable that makes a difference in the lives of individuals and the community. However, without those reductions, programs of even greater impact would have to be cut."

In addition to OTRs not funded in the Tentative Budget, County Administration has proposed reductions for the County Health Department's Certified Home Health Agency (CHHA) and two programs managed by the Youth Services Department: eliminating a quarter-million-dollar allocation for the Municipal Youth Development program and reducing funding for the Learning Web's Community and Career Apprentice Program by 50%. The Administrator recommends the County review whether the County-operated CHHA could operate without a $400,000 annual property tax subsidy or whether the County should withdraw from providing the service, as many other counties have done, transferring its certificate to a qualified not-for-profit provider.

The budget reduces the County workforce by 20 full-time equivalent positions, a decrease of 2.6%, much of the reduction expected to be achieved through natural attrition, as the Legislature considers a local retirement incentive designed to support that process.

Among other proposed initiatives advanced as part of the Tentative Budget: a three-year, $2.4 million bonding to address a backlog of capital maintenance and improvement needs in county buildings, with a one-time allocation of $100,000 to begin planning for the project; $10,000 in contingency funding to assist in comprehensive review of how the county's road, bridge, and highway system is maintained; and $40,000 in contingency funding to continue Smart Work training throughout the county. The administrator also recommends the County sharpen its focus on the issues of energy conservation, climate change and sustainability by formally placing responsibility under direction of a Commissioner of Planning and Community Sustainability, shifting executive oversight of the four public works divisions, on a trial basis, to the County Administrator.

"I appreciate the remarkable dedication and creativity of County department heads and staff at every level in developing a plan that responds to the very difficult circumstances we face, and to the County Legislature for its leadership throughout the year," Administrator Mareane states. "I look forward to working with the Legislature to ensure the final budget allocates available resources to areas of highest priority and greatest need."

Legislators will review the recommended budget in detail at the first meeting of the County's Expanded Budget Committee (any legislator may participate) on Wednesday, September 13, beginning at 4:00 p.m. in Legislature Chambers at the Tompkins County Courthouse, 320 N. Tioga Street, Ithaca--'the first in a series of meetings that will continue through September and October. At these meetings, departments and agencies will have the opportunity to explain their budget requests and how programs would be affected by the recommended budget. The Expanded Budget Committee will accept or alter the Tentative Budget, and will present to the Legislature the Tentative Budget with its recommended changes. The Legislature then will vote on whether to accept the changes, and the amended Tentative Budget will be presented to the public for comment.

Among initiatives to inform the public about the budget and gather input while the Expanded Budget Committee's deliberations are in process, the County will sponsor a public information meeting on the Tentative Budget on Monday, September 27, beginning at 7:00 p.m., at the Tompkins County Public Library, Borg Warner Room, 101 E. Green Street, Ithaca. The formal public hearing to accept comment on the amended Tentative Budget is scheduled for November 3, with a vote on the final budget November 16.

Public copies of the 2011 Tentative Budget are available at the County Administration office, 125 East Court Street, and at the Office of the County Legislature, 320 North Tioga Street. As of Wednesday, September 8, the document also will be posted on the County website at www.tompkins-co.org, where the public also is invited to comment on the budget.