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July 23, 2015 - 8:48am

Gsell calls on county managers to present 'bare bones' budgets for 2016

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

The county's department managers are being asked to turn in austere budgets that add no new staff with an eye toward leaving vacant positions unfilled as County Manager Jay Gsell tries to hold the line on spending in the face of continued expense pressure from the state's unfunded mandates.

State and federal spending mandates, including Medicaid, probation, indigent defense and public assistance consume 82 percent of the county's property tax levy, with the county's share of Medicaid expense now topping $10 million, Gsell said in a memo to county leaders.

The escalating cost of unfunded mandates, with no other increase in spending, will likely create a budget deficit.

"A conservative guestimate of a 'status quo' 2016 General Fund Budget of $106,401,244 would create an expense vs. revenue gap of almost $3.5 million vs. the 2015 Adopted General Fund balanced Budget," Gsell wrote. "This could include the last five year annual average of $2.5 million in fund balance use to stave off property tax increases that help the County again stay under the tax cap ceiling imposed by New York State, but the availability is not guaranteed."

The Legislature will be loathed to support a property tax increase that goes over the levy cap, Gsell said. 

"The County Legislature has not done so for the first four years of the tax cap mandate and 2016 being an election year is unlikely to change that reality/sentiment," Gsell wrote. "New York State/Governor Cuomo armed with the 'now' permanent tax cap legislation has set a negative dynamic for local governments, including school districts and the constituents/taxpayers with the promise of the tax rebates and possible State income tax circuit breakers/tax credits, that challenges we at the local government level to exceed said tax cap and thus suffer the 'wrath' of Albany and unilateral, top down recriminations in the media, with our taxpayers and the possibility of negative state aid implications."

The sale of the county nursing home will help, but that deal won't close until the end of the first quarter of 2016, so the money-losing property will continue to drain county resources in the upcoming budget year, Gsell said.

Gsell said the county is a workforce-intensive business and 32 percent of the county's general fund budget goes to wages and benefits. Pension and health care costs for personnel continue to increase, Gsell said, with new collective bargaining agreements pending.

Even new employee positions funded initially by state and federal grants should be scrutinized closely for long-term impacts on spending, Gsell said. 

If managers want to fill current vacancies or anticipated vacancies, they will need to show business necessity that it is essential to operations, or the position is justified as a basic level of service or required by mandates or can be funded through an equal increase in revenue. 

"Your overall operating budget request should be developed from a 'bare bones' perspective," Gsell wrote. "No sacred cows/no guarantees -- including those portions of your staffing, etc., that are attached to 'mandated services' and related operating expenses and options for better/more efficient utilization of existing staff should be presented."

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