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County Budget Review Continues

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County Budget Review Continues

Thursday, September 18, 2014

In their second night of deliberations, Legislators acting as an Expanded Budget Committee heard from six more County departments, as they continue to review County Administrator Joe Mareane’s recommended 2015 County budget.

The Recommended Budget, with total expenditures of $180 million and local dollar spending of $83.3 million, would increase the tax levy by 2.34% (below the County’s projected property tax cap) and would increase the tax bill by $6.34 for the owner of a median-value $165,000 home—an amount of increase that would be returned by the State under the new State property tax freeze law.

Tonight Legislators heard presentations from the Assessment Department, Board of Elections, Facilities Division, Information Technology Services, the Department of Social Services, and Weights and Measures.  Again tonight, there was little discussion of over-target requests—only two of the departments submitted OTRs, all recommended by the County Administrator and all for one-time or multi-year funding, with no effect on the tax levy.

Among highlights from tonight’s presentations, three of the departments—Assessment, Information Technology Services, and the Department of Social Services—identified the issue of succession planning as among the major influences on their departments in the year ahead.  Assessment anticipates two retirements, including its Commercial Appraiser; Information Technology is preparing for five retirements over the next five years; and DSS will lose to retirement the directors of its two largest divisions, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance.

Assessment Director Jay Franklin said a nearly $47,000 multi-year OTR would enable the retiring Commercial Appraiser to continue half-time to train a replacement, and a more than $8,700 OTR, along with increased revenue from the Town of Covert, would extend a half-year project assistant to nearly full-year to alleviate clerical duties and allow a focus on succession planning.  With demands from a changing real estate market and increase in the number of county parcels, along with demands from State tax legislation, he noted his department continues to meet its demands with a staff that is 65% smaller than it was 15 years ago.

ITS Director Greg Potter noted that three of the five expected retirements could come in a single year.  Addition of two positions in his department for 2015 represent transfers from the Mental Health Department to ITS, as part of the continued centralization of the County’s IT employees and services.

Social Services Commissioner Patricia Carey said her department is about three-and-a-half staff positions smaller for 2015—through attrition and reassignment--as the department works to reorganize on an ongoing basis where circumstances permit and balance staff with the work that needs to be done— an approach that will help the department address the impending retirements and how to fill those positions.  She said there is still much uncertainty about specifics concerning future State Department of Health plans to take over Medicaid case processing—including how Federal and State funding for local district staff might be reduced, beyond 2015.  Commissioner Carey said she has expressed displeasure with the State’s stated plan and has indicated the department’s strong desire to continue to provide service if there will be the opportunity to do so.  Concerning the DSS budget, County Administrator Joe Mareane noted that moderation of mandates has produced some financial stability, with a surprisingly flat budget for the department between 2014 and 2015.

The Facilities Division has increased its roster by about one-and-a-half positions, adding a maintenance trainee position and increasing the electrician position from half to full-time—both staff increases supported through funds that had been set aside for lease payments elsewhere in the budget.  Facilities Director Arel LeMaro said the positions will enable the division to meet maintenance demands for a building area that has increased by about 100,000 square feet over the past 15 years.  The Division’s two over-target requests are for equipment replacement—a tractor and flat-bed truck.

The Board of Elections noted that there will be only local elections in 2015, with no countywide primary in 2015, minimizing the budget impact.  But Commissioners Elizabeth Cree and Stephen DeWitt cautioned that the 2016 Presidential election year, which would include as many as three countywide primaries, will require the department’s 2015 target reduction to be restored, along with additional one-time money to cover the extra presidential primary and additional workers.

The Expanded Budget Committee will meet again Monday, September 22.  All Expanded Budget sessions begin at 5:30 p.m., and are held at Legislature Chambers in the Governor Daniel D. Tompkins Building, 121 E. Court Street (Second Floor).

The 2015 Recommended Budget, along with other budget-related information, see the County's budget page.