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October 25, 2016 - 11:08am

County Legislature asked to look at budget that dips into reserves and money earmarked for roads and bridges

posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, news.

His proposed county budget for 2017 is bare-bones and no-frills, County Manager Jay Gsell told Legislators in his annual budget message, delivered as his office wraps up putting together a tax and expense plan that meets the county's obligation to continue state-mandated programs, keeps local services in place and doesn't call on officials to raise taxes above tax cap levels.

Increasing state-manded funding obligations continue to burden local taxpayers, with no relief in sight, Gsell said.

"The continued disregard of New York State's culpability in the county tax rate increases over the past 40 years is something we have learned to live with, but to be additionally mocked by Albany for not being able to control our expenses or tax rates, and blaming us for 'living with these unfunded mandates' is disingenuous at best and necessitate county governments cutting non-mandated, quality-of-life programs, reducing funding for vital community agency programs and depleting our fund balance in lieu of 10- to 30-percent property tax levy increases, neither option of which is sustainable nor logical in tax-happy New York State," Gsell wrote.

Examples of mandated expenses without concurrent state aid is Medicaid, an expenditure equivalent to 80 percent of the county's tax levy. The county is also being forced to pick up more of the cost of legal defense for suspects unable to pay for their own attorney. Unreimbursed legal services costs now exceeds $1.2 million. The state is also mandating an increase in District Attorney pay from $152,500 to $183,350. 

Gsell's budget once again dips into the county's reserve funds, to the tune of $1 million, and transfers $1.1 million in anticipated sales tax revenue from future projects, such as road and bridges, to spend the money in 2017. It also cuts 10 percent of the funding requests for several local agencies, including Genesee County Economic Development Center, libraries, the Holland Land Office Museum, and the Soil & Water Conservation District.

Shuffling the deck chairs enables Gsell to present a balanced budget that keeps the tax levy under the tax cap level.

The proposed tax rate is $9.76 per thousand of assessed value for a total levy of $27,844,499.

Any drastic changes in Gsell's proposed budget, such as raising the tax rate above tax cap levels, or cuts to essential services, what Gsell previously called "the nuclear option," are policy decisions best left to members of the County Legislature, Gsell said.

The legislature meets at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow in the conference room of the Old Courthouse to discuss the proposed budget.

As mandated expenses continue to grow and the county facing potentially large bills for infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, and possibly a new jail, Gsell warns in his budget message that the county may have to consider in 2018 pulling back the 50/50 share of sales tax revenue with towns and the city. The county isn't required to share sales tax revenue and expenses for local roads and bridges falls almost entirely on county government.

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