Assuming the County Legislature passes its proposed 2017 budget next week, it will contain the largest property tax increase in recent memory, taking the rate from $9.86 per thousand to $10.07 per thousand of assessed value.
Nobody likes a tax increase, Ways and Means Chairman Bob Bausch noted after Wednesday's committee meeting where the new proposed tax rate was announced, but a two-percent increase is far more manageable for most people than a four or five or six percent increase, all of which were on the table at one point during the budget talks over the past couple of months.
To get the rate down to $10.07, from a proposed rate of $10.25 a week ago, the Legislature had to come together on a proposal to withdraw another $500,000 from reserve funds, making a total of $1 million being drawn from reserves, to balance the general fund.
The total property tax levy will be $28,969,114, a 2.13 percent increase over last year, which will require the Legislature to override the state's tax cap on levy increases.
It looks like Ray Cianfrini, the chairman of the Legislature, will be the sole dissenting vote on the 2017 budget. He thinks the tax rate can be lower. he thinks the county can afford to withdraw more money from the reserve to help keep the tax rate down.
"The budget being presented is a better budget than we had a week ago, but, again, I'm not going to support it," Cianfrini said.
Over the past dozen years, the county has not calculated into its projected revenue the proceeds of properties sold at the annual tax lien auction.
The count doesn't tally this up as anticipated revenue because it's so unpredictable. One year, the county brought in an extra $400,000 from the auction, but another year it was down to only $7,000 in revenue.
However, Cianfrini said, the average is $142,000. He would like the county to budget for at least some level of revenue from the auction.
Cianfrini is also concerned the county in its budget planning is not giving enough credit for the coming cost savings from the sale of the Genesee County Nursing Home and the boost it will give to the reserve fund balance.
After spending $1 million from the reserve, the county will have a fund balance of $7.7 million. The anticipated net proceeds from the nursing home sale will be more than $6 million, giving the county a fund balance in excess of $14 million.
That's a record amount, Cianfrini said.
"The fund balance is still taxpayer money," Cianfrini said. "It's money we collected from taxpayers and didn't spend. Whenever we have the opportunity, we should give that money back to the taxpayers."
No members of the Ways and Means Committee responded to Cianfrini during the meeting and the resolution to recommend budget approval to the full Legislature passed 4-1.
After the meeting, Bausch said he isn't comfortable counting on any amount of money coming from the sale of nursing home until all of the bills related to the sale are paid, which won't happen for another eight or nine months.
"At some point, we will know what those final numbers are," Bausch said. "We have made a significant commitment to our constituents to use that money for roads and bridges. Yes, there is a discussion to be had (about what to do with the money), but we're not anywhere near ready for that discussion."