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Administrator Releases 2019 Recommended Budget

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Administrator Releases 2019 Recommended Budget

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino has delivered to the County Legislature a 2019 Recommended County Budget and 2019-2023 Capital Program.

The budget proposes modest spending growth, stability in current programs, and the alignment of resources with priorities that include sustained investment in capital infrastructure, continued focus on reducing our jail population, addressing the shortage of affordable housing, and maintaining a diverse, well-trained, motivated workforce.

The Recommended Budget supports total expenditures of $186.5 million (an increase of 2.57%) and local dollar spending of $89.9 million (an increase of 2.05%).  The budget is balanced with a 1.43% increase in the County property tax levy, which is less than the Legislature’s 2.2% levy goal, and well below the County’s tax cap.  Due to a substantial 4.3% increase in the county’s tax base, which spreads the cost of government across a larger base, the budget contains a property tax rate that will go down again in 2019, to $6.39 per $1,000—a reduction of 2.76%.  This is the fifth consecutive year that the tax rate has decreased, and is the lowest County tax rate since 2011.  A $3 increase in the County’s solid waste annual fee also is recommended, bringing the fee to $58.  Under the Recommended Budget, the County property tax bill for the owner of a median-valued $185,000 home would increase by $15.40.

“Our Budget continues to benefit from a strong local economy,” Administrator Molino notes in his annual Budget Message to the Legislature.  “For the fourth straight year, the budgeted cost of mandated human services programs has declined, in part, because of an economy that is creating opportunities for employment.”  A robust growth in tax base fueled by large-scale new construction (12.3% over the past three years), along with stable growth in local wages and consumer spending, has contributed to healthy growth in sales tax collections, he said.

The Recommended Budget includes more than $2.3 million dollars in over-target requests (OTRs) proposed by departments and agencies to support specific requests beyond their baseline target budgets—most for one-time, non-recurring expenditures which would be funded through the County’s fund balance and would not affect the property tax.   Administrator Molino says all OTRs were reviewed through the lens of the expectations and performance to be achieved, alignment with legislative priorities, and “what success would look like.”

Among major influences on the budget:

  • Sales Tax:  The Recommended Budget assumes that 2018 will finish strong with solid growth over prior year collections, providing a conservative estimate of reasonable growth of 5.4% following the surge in collections over the past 18 months; however, it is noted that the unexplainable volatile history of sales tax collection makes future projections extremely difficult.  The importance of monitoring revenue projections in light of economic conditions is identified in light of potential risks regarding the 2019 budget.
  • Labor Costs:  The County’s settled White Collar labor agreement, which covers 60% of employees, provides a 2.0% wage increase for 2019, along with longevity increases.  Contracts with the County’s remaining three bargaining units have yet to be finalized.

The Budget reflects a total County workforce to 748 FTEs.  Among position-related over-target requests are several that relate to upcoming retirements in 2019—reclassification of three positions as part of reorganization of the Department of Emergency Response; temporarily increasing the half-time inspector in Weights and Measures to full-time; a Personnel Assistant Trainee in Human Resources; and a Telecom/Programming/Administrator in Information Technology Services.

Fringe Benefits:  Reflecting the continued moderating influence of the Greater Tompkins County Municipal Health Insurance Consortium, fringe benefit expenses include a 6% increase in health costs—once again below the premium increases of as much as 12% being experienced for health insurance programs across New York State.  The County’s announced pension rate of 14.6% is a negligible decrease from 2018’s 14.9%, and little change in retirement contribution is anticipated.

  • Mandates:  2019 marks the fourth consecutive year of budgeted reductions in mandated expenses.   Total local cost of $20.9 million represents a slight decrease in property tax-supported cost of mandates ($175,261) from the 2018 budgeted level.  Medicaid, which remains the largest single cost in the County’s budget at $11.8 million, is expected to increase by 1.9%, representing 24% of the County’s 2019 property tax levy.  Local dollar budgets for both the Health Department’s PreK Special Education/ Early Intervention programs, and for the DSS Child Care program have been reduced to align with recent spending patterns and reimbursement options.
  • Capital Reinvestment:  The Recommended Budget adheres to the Legislature policy of devoting 0.5% of the County’s property tax levy to support capital investment, adding $245,716 to pay for infrastructure improvements—mostly to pay debt service on projects already authorized by the Legislature.  Two new capital projects are proposed, both funded with reserves—renovations to the Old Jail office building and construction of a new cold storage building at the Bostwick Road public works facility.
  • Sponsored and Partner Agencies:  Under a renewed Memorandum of Understanding, Tompkins County Area Development (TCAD) will receive a $4,910 increase in County support, to $250,410—a $22,000 increase in the proportion to come from the property tax.  For Tompkins Cortland Community College, the County’s sponsor contribution holds steady at $2.97 million.  Funding for other sponsored and partner agencies includes a 2% cost of living increase.

Other highlights:

Solid Waste Fee:  The proposed increase, to $58 (from $55) dollars reflects a more than 50%   decline in recycling commodity prices which has produced an anticipated $400,000 revenue shortfall, coupled with a $500,000 increase in County-wide recycling collection under the new 10-year contract.  The Administrator recommends careful pre-planning for the 2020 budget, which should begin early in 2019.

Jail Board-Outs:  While the County has kept board-out expense at a minimum since loss of the jail variance last year, $300,000 is again recommended as part of the contingent fund to support any immediate increase in board-out costs.

Raise the Age:  Reflecting the impact of legislation that raises the age of juvenile delinquency to 17 this October, and the age of criminal responsibility to 18 as of October 2019, the Recommended Budget as a first step adds $150,000 to the Probation Department budget and budgets $1.65 million for estimated detention expenses to the DSS Child Care budget.

Veterans Service Agency:  The Recommended Budget includes funding to establish the Tompkins County Veterans Service Agency, pursuant to New York State Executive Law.

Housing:   One initiative supported by over-target funding in the Recommended Budget is development of a Municipal Housing Affordability Matching Funding, to provide funding to municipalities to support hiring of consultants to assist with grant writing, study development, and general support for infrastructure and housing development targeting the expansion of affordable housing.

Tax Cap:  Under normal circumstances, the County’s 2019 State tax cap would be 4.78%; however, an abnormal circumstance related to the Town of Dryden’s decision to join other towns in using its anticipated sales tax revenue to lower the county tax rate for town residents has raised the County’s tax calculated tax cap, for 2019 only, to and elevated level of 9.76%

“I wish to thank all County Department Heads and staff, for their professionalism, commitment to the community, and patience,” Molino states, referring especially to the valuable orientation they have provided him, as a first-year Administrator, to their operations and elements of their budgets.  He also expressed appreciation to Agency Directors and staff for their professional approach to the challenges that mark every budget.  “All demonstrated their commitment, and ability, to provide services essential to the community with both quality and efficiency,” he said. 

Mr. Molino also recognized the Legislature for establishing clear policy guidance and instilling a culture of fiscal discipline and responsiveness to community needs that has shaped this budget.  “As a result, the County is well positioned to provide effective and efficient services, invest in the public’s infrastructure, sustain our partner agencies, and maintain our strong fiscal health, all with a modest increase in the property tax levy,” he said.

Legislators will review the recommended budget in detail at the first meeting of the County’s Expanded Budget Committee (any legislator may participate) on Thursday, September 6, 5:30 p.m. in Legislature Chambers, Governor Daniel D. Tompkins Building, 121 E. Court Street (Second Floor), Ithaca—the first in a series of meetings that will continue through September and October.

The 2019 Recommended Budget is posted on the County website at www.TompkinsCountyNY.gov/ctyadmin/2019budget.

Public copies of the Recommended Budget are available for review at the County Administration office, 125 East Court Street (3rd Floor), and at the Office of the County Legislature, 121 East Court Street.