Alger: Budget doesn’t have much for local needs

Mary Perham

When Steuben County legislators sit down Monday night to approve county spending in 2013, they won’t be voting on much that benefits local residents, according to county Administrator Mark Alger.

“This budget is largely driven by state requirements,” Alger said recently. “There’s not much in here for local needs.”

Monday’s vote will follow a 6 p.m. public hearing on the proposed 2013 budget of $187 million, which carries a tax levy of $48 million and a proposed tax increase of 2.9 percent.

While half of the proposed levy will go to pay Medicaid and welfare costs, other state-mandated charges, such as pensions and community college subsidies, add another 45 percent to the levy, according to the preliminary budget.

That means 5 percent of property owners’ tax dollars goes toward local services, such as roads, bridges and the county road patrol, Alger said.

The decision in September to add another element to the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap, renders the cap useless, according to Alger.

The September decision forced Steuben and 22 other counties to count sales tax receipts they hold for municipalities as county income.

“We now exceed the tax cap just paying the bills,” Alger said.

The answer to the mandates is not for the state to increase financial aid to the counties, Alger said.

“We don’t advocate for more money,” Alger said. “We advocate for change. They need to change the system.”

The change includes cutting programs and giving counties more say in what programs they offer, he said.

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.)

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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.