County’s 2012 budget passes without objection

Mary Perham
Mark Alger

It took Steuben County legislators about 10 minutes Monday night to pass their 2012 spending plan, with no objections raised by the public during a hearing on next year’s budget.

Next year's $186 million budget carries a $46.7 million tax levy, with an average tax increase of 1.7 percent. The tax rate will drop 10 cents per $1,000.

County Administrator Mark Alger warned not everyone in the county will see their property taxes stay below the state mandated 2 percent cap.

The real tax impact for property owners comes from the equalization rate – a state formula designed to ensure property owners across the county pay a fair share of the tax levy.

“When is a 2 percent tax cap not a 2 percent tax cap?” Alger asked. “When it’s a New York State 2 percent property tax cap.”

Alger also urged legislators to pass a local law allowing them to override the state tax cap in the future, in order to protect themselves from future state audits.

Alger warned state officials are uncertain about some guidelines on what is covered by the cap.

“It’s inevitable that whatever you do now will be wrong in the future,” he said.

Legislators adopted the local law unanimously.

While no one from the public objected to the 2012 budget, some public agencies took time to thank county lawmakers for continuing to fund them.

Representatives from area libraries and the Finger Lakes SPCA told the Legislature funding ensures services to Steuben residents.

However, that funding is likely to change dramatically during the next couple of years.

In a press conference held after the public hearing to highlight the issues, Legislature Chairman Joe Hauryski, R-Campbell, said agencies like the libraries, SPCA and Cornell Cooperative may become the next victims of the state’s property tax cap.

Those groups, and others like them, are commonly known as “outside agencies,” and funded by the county. The agencies typically use county funding to attract state and private money, and boost their operating budgets.

Next year, those agencies will receive more than $1.1 million, roughly equivalent to 3 percent of property taxes.

It’s unlikely they will receive that much funding in 2013, Hauryski said Monday night.

“We don’t want to do this,” Hauryski said. “But we have no choice.”

Most of the county’s increased costs next year are a result of hikes in state mandated programs, with Medicaid and welfare costs jumping $2.5 million in 2012. The two programs, combined, account for more than half of the tax levy.

To reduce costs, Steuben trimmed the county Public Works equipment budget and kept road repair near current funding levels. Six county employees took early retirement, further reducing county expenses.