County reinstates bridge repair funds for 2013

Mary Perham

Bridge repair money for the cities of Corning and Hornell is back in the Steuben County 2013 budget, although county legislators said Thursday the system is due for an overhaul.

Meeting in special session for their board-wide budget workshop, county Legislature voted 15-2 to put back $100,000 into next year’s budget for the cities’ bridge work.

Legislators said last week the bridge funding was supposed to be temporary, but had become an unnecessary annual appropriation.

Each year the county sends $60,000 to Hornell and $40,000 to Corning for their bridge repairs, generally over the protest of some legislators who say the cities get the lion’s share of the municipal sales tax revenues.

But the $60,000 cut also represents a 2.5 percent tax increase for Hornell property owners, Hornell City Mayor Shawn Hogan said last week.

Legislators Thursday said the issue has become an annual tussle and needs to be resolved – something that could happen next year when the county looks at a new sales tax agreement, according to county Administrator Mark Alger.

Alger said the 1 percent sales tax increase is up for renewal next year, something that could bring the counties and the cities to the table for talks in 2013.

The county also is looking at ways to pass on sales tax revenues to other towns and villages, since the state is penalizing Steuben for its current sales tax distribution policies.

No other changes were made to the tentative 2013 budget of $187 million, which carries a tax levy of $48 million and a proposed tax increase of 2.9 percent.

The county’s average tax rate also will increase about $.23 per $1,000 next year, from the current $8.66 per $1,000 to $8.89 per $1,000 next year.

The increase is due to a drop in assessed property values due to the current glut of natural gas. Alger told the board the drop is because existing wells are not producing, and has nothing to do with proposed hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale.

Steuben’s current budget of $186 million called for a tax levy of $46.7 million, and a 1.9 percent tax increase.

Key budget items next year include:

Highways -- $24.8 million (up 1.6 percent)

Medicaid -- $21. 5 million (up $500,000)

Health Care Facility -- $2.1 million deficit in 2012 (paid out of county reserves.)

A public hearing on next year’s budget is set for 6 p.m. Nov. 26, after which the county board is expected to adopt the 2013 spending plan.