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County passes contentious budget, but future budget challenges lay ahead

By Howard B. Owens

Along the way to settling on a 2017 county budget, the process wasn't without a bit of acrimony, but looking forward to future budgets, there may only be more pain ahead.

The County Legislature passed its budget last night, 7-2. It raises county property taxes to $10.07 per thousand of assessed value, creating a property tax levy of $28,699,115. The increase required the Legislature to vote to override the state's 2-percent cap on an increase of the levy.

Legislative Chairman Ray Cianfrini said he thought his colleagues could have done better and voted against the budget, which takes effect Jan. 1. 

"The county manager presented us with a proposed budget that used reserves to decrease the tax rate and keep us under the tax cap," Cianfrini said. "Now, we are rejecting it for a budget with an increase in the tax rate and that goes over the cap. I think we could have done better."

John Deleo also voted no. (Corrected)

The budget County Manager Jay Gsell presented in October took $1 million from the reserve fund and redirected $1 million in anticipated sales tax revenue that would typically go into the long-term capital project fund and cut the tax rate to $9.79.  

A report earlier from County Treasurer Scott German stated that if the county continued on the same path it had for the past eight years, of spending about $2 million in reserve funds per year, the county would be broke within five years.

That particularly concerned legislators Andrew Young and Bob Bausch and they initially pushed for a budget that took nothing from reserve funds. The problem they ran into: the Legislature couldn't find $2 million in spending to cut without cutting essential services, such as law enforcement; and they were no more happy with the idea of a tax rate approaching $10.50.

The compromise a draw on reserves of only $500,000, but that lowered the rate to only $10.25, so the legislators met again to try and find more spending cuts. They invited in Undersheriff William Sheron (the next sheriff), Public Defender Jerry Ader and District Attorney Lawrence Friedman to discuss cuts.

Out of that, the Sheriff's Office still gets its two new corrections officers, which will help save the overtime costs associated with deputies transporting female prisoners between courts and jail facilities in other counties, and Ader keeps his caseworker, which helps ensure criminal defendants meet their obligations, but Friedman won't get to promote ADA Melissa Cianfrini to his first assistant.

He's been without a first assistant for six years and the discussion over the promotion became contentious, with both Ray Cianfrini, Melissa's father-in-law, and Friedman suggesting that the reason some on the legislature didn't want to give her a raise is because she's a woman.

That suggestion didn't go over well with members of the Legislature, particularly Bausch, who pointed out he has three daughters, including one who is an attorney.

Future budget years don't promise to get any easier for a county that has already been through years and years of spending cuts, eliminating more than 100 jobs, keeping management pay about 95 percent of market value, delaying maintenance on infrastructure, reducing spending on support agencies, selling the nursing home and holding off on building a new jail.

All this in an environment where the state continues to mandate increases in spending -- this year, for example, forcing the county to increase the salary of the district attorney -- and a new White House administration that promises to eliminate the Affordable Health Care Act.

That, Gsell said, "will render asunder state and county budgets."

The AHC required the county to take on more Medicaid expenses, mainly by ensuring more people who are qualified for Medicaid are receiving Medicaid. The number of people locally who are enrolled in Medicaid has gone from 8,800 to 12,200.

The county's share of the expense is now $178,000 per week.

That expense won't be reduced if the AHC is repealed because the people currently receiving Medicaid will still be eligible for Medicaid, but the federal government's share of the expense, which flows through the state to the county, will be reduced.

That's a mandated expense the county can't legally avoid.

And the increase in enrollment is not without its benefits, Gsell said. It helps control expenses because people are in managed plans and are not relying on emergency rooms for their medical care.

And the fight continues with the state over other mandated costs. The state recently increased the standards for indigent legal defense and with the changes, there was supposed to be relief from the $1.2 million in county expense, but the bill that would make that change has lingered on the governor's desk.

That will be a topic of discussion next week, Gsell said, when representatives from all 52 counties in the state meet for their annual convention.

Meanwhile, work has already begun on the request of legislators to come up with a five-year plan for the county. There is a template recommended by the Comptroller's Office and the county's auditors for five-year planning, Gsell said, and staff has already started working through it.

That plan will set priorities, provide a framework and anticipate contingencies that may help with future budget discussions.

Also, last night, Cianfrini announced that discussions have begun at the most preliminary stages with Orleans County about building a regional jail.

Brian Graz

So, we only have two county legislators with their heads screwed on straight. Sad

Obviously seven of our County Legislators feel; "why spend your own money when you can hit someone else up to pay for your expenditures?"

Dec 15, 2016, 1:45pm Permalink
John Roach

Brian, "your expenditures"? Most people support spending on the jail and having the Sheriff road patrols. They support having the 2 parks and the County fixing bridges and roads (in fact, they want more).

Social Services (welfare and such) are mandated.

They have sold the Nursing Home, waiting for the State to sign off.

There are a few areas to trim, but other than GCEDC, what would you cut?

Dec 15, 2016, 2:05pm Permalink
Brian Graz

I obviously haven't seen a line item list of what and where the money is being spent, but I feel sure that non-essential things like parks, museums, libraries, forest, etc could be cut even more [let the vast minority of people who use these things pay a user fee to cover the costs]. Sell the airport and get that property on the tax roll. Perhaps all f/t non-essential county employees could be put on a 4 day week. And the hot item for dispute among the yeas and nays... use some of the reserve fund, that's our tax money that has already been fleeced and now they don't want to use it! What's the purpose of having reserve if not to cover a shortfall? Then obviously going forward the Legislature better sharpen it's pencils and reign in the spending it has control over, because even the reserve fund won't cover a million dollar shortfall year after year after year. As for Albany's unfunded mandates, well that's just another reason for Two NYs.

So John, what would you do if you didn't have enough money to pay your bills, expect your neighbor to give it to ya? There is something very basic that been amiss for too long in government at ALL levels. It's called fiscal responsibility, where you maintain a balanced budget, and you don't spend "anticipated revenue" until you have the money in hand.

BTW, I knew the legislators pay taxes also, and they just recently gave themselves and county officials a nice raise too. Have you checked the median income for Genesee County against what these folks are being paid? The most recent numbers I could find are from 2015 and the median household income was $51k. That's HOUSEHOLD income. Most of the county officials individually earn more than that, and several make two to four times that amount.

Oh and a poverty level of almost 15%.

Dec 15, 2016, 4:19pm Permalink
John Roach

I like the idea of selling the airport, but that is so tied up now in grants and such that is, if you really look into it, not much of an option anymore.

Selling the parks, forest, libraries and the Holland Land Office is an idea of at least one political party, and is something I hope they find someone to run on. I would love to see how many votes they get.

Dec 15, 2016, 4:35pm Permalink
Brian Graz

Thank you Legislators Deleo and Cianfrini, for trying to do what I firmly believe the majority of Genesee County residents/taxpayers elected our Legislators to do. Cut spending, balance the budget, and hold taxes. We just need to work on finding 7 more for the next election who want to do the same.

Dec 15, 2016, 8:12pm Permalink

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