BATH – For the first time in recent memory, both the tax levy and tax rate are expected to decrease in the proposed 2017 budget, according to county Manager Jack Wheeler.

Pending final approval by the county Legislature, the proposed 2017 budget of $177.8 million carries a tax levy of $50,008,771, with an average tax rate of $8.46 per $1,000 full value.

The current 2016 budget of $175 million resulted in a tax levy of $50,010,577 and an average tax  rate of $8.59 per $1,000 full value.

“We were fortunate this year in many regards,” county Manager Jack Wheeler told county legislators Monday at the annual budget presentation. “By every measure, we are decreasing taxes in 2017.”

Wheeler credited flat Medicaid expenses, efficient staffing levels and increased state funding for highway improvements with the drop in the levy.

“So again, we have what I call a maintenance budget,” Wheeler said. “We continue to be forced to fund state-mandated programs while providing services our residents demand. We are maintaining core services and infrastructure without burdening our tax payers. It’s a fine balance.”

As an example of the state-imposed burden on property owners, Wheeler noted the state’s hard cap on Medicaid costs halted the health-entitlement program’s spiraling cost impact on Steuben tax payers.

However, Medicaid will remain the single largest expense for county taxpayers next year, accounting for $19.3 million and equal to 39 percent of the total levy, Wheeler said. 

Wheeler warned legislators state-imposed changes in public defense could result in an additional $500,000 for Steuben taxpayers if the state fails to pick up the cost.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not signed a bipartisan measure supporting the state takeover which was passed by both the state Senate and Assembly, he said.

“It is in his interest, and the state’s, to sign it,” Wheeler said. “It is their responsibility to ensure equitable and common public defense systems across county borders. Without state funding, it is virtually impossible to provide standardized representation.”

Key points in the proposed budget include:

*An increase of $627,000 for the county Public Works Department.

*A decrease of $548,000 in costs for the county Department of Social Services.

*An increase of $231,000 at the county Jail, due to state Department of Corrections requirements. 

*Staffing levels holding steady at 850, down from a high of 1,200 in 2008.

*An increase of $40,000 for a data analytics system, to track the county’s finances and operational data and improve public access.

*An increase of $40,000 for CSS Workforce NY to support short- and long-term workforce development strategies to support economic development.

A public hearing on the proposed budget is set for 6 p.m. Nov. 28 in the County Office Building, 3 E. Pulteney Square, Bath. A vote on adoption of the budget by the county Legislature will follow the public hearing.