Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes presented a budget preparation overview to the Legislature, outlining relevant economic indicators and local budget factors in the leadup to developing the 2024 County Budget. Holmes’ presentation began with a statement that the outlook is currently uncertain, characterizing it as serious without closure on the New York State Budget which has yet to pass. The presentation focused on the possibilities in a worst-case scenario, with the expectation that adjustments will be made when more information becomes available.
Holmes stated that the worst-case scenario is estimated to be an impact of $8.9 million on the budget including $4.4 from mandated increases.
Holmes presented several economic and fiscal indicators that impact the planning for the County’s budget. National-level indicators include inflation, which is continuing to impact the economy, consumer confidence regaining ground but faltering, performance of the stock market, and unemployment rates which remain low for Tompkins County (2.9% as of February 2023). A primary local indicator is the number of households on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which has increased 14% since 2020 to over 4,700 households – Safety Net (37% increase since September 2021) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cases are also considered.
Sales tax revenues may be able to make up for some of the increased costs to be faced by Tompkins County. Sales tax is the second-largest source of revenue for Tompkins County, behind property taxes, and sales tax revenue has grown an average of 3.9% annually from 2013-2022. So far in 2023 sales tax revenues are outpacing 2022 by 2.54%. The estimated sales tax revenues for 2024 are currently $47.5 million, up $6.9 million from 2023, an estimated 1% increase.
Holmes outlined threats facing the budget process, including the unknown New York State mandates that shift costs onto counties such as the EFMAP cost increase (currently estimated at $1.6 million) and funding to increase the rates for Assigned Counsel Attorneys ($1.1 million). Additionally, the Ithaca Tompkins International Airport continues to face challenges with the number of flyers (enplanements) and local revenues still not recovered to pre-pandemic levels – revenues that were expected to cover costs related to recent Airport improvements. In 2019 the Airport had over 110,000 enplanements, and in 2022 it had just under 60,000.
American Rescue Plan Act funds are fully obligated by Tompkins County; they must be expended by 2026. 43% of the $19.8 million received by Tompkins County is being used for capital projects, 33% is being used for the Community Recovery Fund, and the remainder is being used for operating funds.
At this point in the process Holmes is projecting that a maintenance of effort budget would increase the tax levy by $2.9 million (5.53%), a $99 increase on County property taxes for the median homeowner with an assessed property value of $249,000.
Holmes reiterated that this presentation was based on worst-case scenarios and that once the State Budget and other information is available adjustments will be made.
The Legislature will begin to consider the parameters for 2024 budget development in its Budget, Capital, and Personnel Committee in the coming months.