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November 16, 2016 - 10:26pm

One way or another, local taxpayers will feel the pain of 2017 county budget

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

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There seems to be no path county legislators can go down with the 2017 county budget that doesn't hurt taxpayers.

Nobody wants to see a tax increase, especially one that is higher than the state-mandated tax cap, but that's exactly what is under consideration by the nine-member body.

Legislators must also decide whether to spend tomorrow's money today or make drastic cuts in personnel that will leave taxpayers with curtailed essential services.

The hard choices discussed at a meeting Wednesday night left everybody a bit frustrated, Chairman Ray Cianfrini most of all, who said if the legislators can't reach a consensus and pass a budget by Dec. 14, the county will be left, by law, with the budget proposal originally drafted by County Manager Jay Gsell.

"If we're not careful, the budget we get will be Jay's budget, which is the budget we all like the least," Cianfrini said.

That budget doesn't raise taxes -- though it does increase the tax levy above the state-mandated level -- but it grabs two big buckets of money the county will need in future years and spends it in 2017.

Gsell's budget is balanced because it takes $1 million in sales tax revenue that would normally be rolled over into funding for future capital projects, such as roads and bridges, and it draws down the county's reserve funds by yet another $1 million.

The tax rate for local property owners would be $$9.76 per thousand of assessed value, which is slightly lower than 2016 rate, but because of an increase in assessed value for county properties, would actually raise more money.

Because of the state's tax-cap formula, which adjusts the cap based on changes to assessed value, the county can't approve a rate above $9.86 without overriding the tax cap.

That's something the legislators seem willing to do under the circumstances.

None of them like the idea of diverting sales tax revenue away from roads and bridges (and the likelihood the county will be forced to build a new jail within the next five years), so that proposal is no longer under consideration.

But legislators can't agree on whether to tap into reserve funds to balance the budget. There's no more than four votes for that option, even if the amount taken from reserves is reduced to $500,000.

"I'm much more concerned about what's going to happen long term," said Legislator Bob Bausch. "I'm not willing to have my kids and my grandkids paying our bills."

Legislator Andrew Young was adamant that the Legislature needs a plan to ensure the county's financial viability before he could agree to spend any more reserves.

"We're working on deficit budgets and eventually that's going to catch up with us." Young said. "We need to put a pencil to this budget and cut things."

Young noted that Treasurer Scott German has warned that if the county continues to spend down reserves, it's looking at insolvency within five years.

To that end, Young was ready to push for the Legislature to eliminate the two corrections officer positions requested by the Sheriff's Office, but also leave unfilled a road patrol vacancy that will open up at the beginning of the year.

That would save the county about $200,000 in 2017.

Cianfrini said if that was part of the final budget, he would have to vote no. The Legislature was split on whether to then eliminate just the two CO positions or just the deputy position.

The reason the Sheriff requested the CO positions is those new hires could start handling prisoner transports for female prisoners between Genesee County's courts and the county jails where they are housed (because Genesee County's jail can't house female prisoners). The county is facing rapidly rising overtime costs because of the transports and road patrol shifts are sometimes short of manpower.

Bausch and Legislator John Deleo were both opposed to any significant tax increase, especially the nearly $1 million increase needed to make up for not spending reserves and not diverting sales tax revenue.

Even when asked to consider spending only $500,000 of reserves, Deleo looked at the potential tax rate, shook his head and muttered, "that's just too much."

He said he was concerned about the burden on taxpayers in the city.

"People tell me all the time to hold the tax cap," Deleo said. "They stop me in the street. But even if we hold it to the 2016 rate, we can't make this work. It's just unreal."

Bausch said there is another constituency to seriously consider -- farmers, who own most of the land in the county.

"Even a 10-cent increase would have a big negative impact on our farmers and they're the number one industry in the county," Bausch said.

There will be some budget relief once the county closes on its deal to sell the County Nursing Home, but the impact will mostly be a one-time benefit and not help the longer term, growing fiscal crisis facing the county.

The legislature meets again on Monday evening to take up the budget discussion once again and see if they can come to an agreement on taxes and spending for 2017.

The total proposed buget for 2017 is $146,249,625, which includes all expenses covered by all funding sources, including revenue received from various other funding sources besides property and sales tax. A property tax of $9.76 per thousand would raise $27,844,499 (the tax levy). The county is also budgeting for about $18 million in sales tax revenue. A large proportion of the county's expenditures are mandated by state law and can't be eliminated.

Thomas Schneider
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How much would furloughing non-essential employees for one day each week save? That's what businesses in the real world sometimes need to do.

Ricky G. Hale
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If you see John on the street, tell him "YOU NEED TO DO SOMETHING"

Kevin Ross
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Since when is Sheriff patrol positions non-essential? If the Sheriff says he can do with out filling jail officers, he knows best about what he needs or don't need. So lets get rid of non-essential positions in the county. Also why is there not a way to transport prisoners to and from court all at once, instead of sending individual patrols out to transport 1 or 2 prisoners at a time. If you have 5 prisoners going to county court in a secured van with 2 CO deputies assigned to the van to transport them to court and back. If they are going downtown Buffalo or Rochester the same thing if more than one going load them up into a secured van with 2 CO deputies. This seems to me like it would much more cost efficient and safer for the residents of the county not to keep sending road patrols to transport 1 or 2 prisoners at a time. Like I said the Sheriff would know better about this maybe there are reasons it is done, the way it is done. I see many desk (office) jobs in county building 1, county building 2, department of social services, etc. Many times you call these offices and get no answers on the phone lines, but if you walk in these offices you see a lot of employee's sitting around doing nothing, but laughing and socializing with other employee's. Lets cut out some of these jobs, why do we have 10 people sitting in an office doing nothing, when 5 people could do the job and actually work 7.0 hours instead of having so much down time. Lets get rid of all these county vehicles running around. I have to wonder sometimes when I see a vehicle with a county seal sticker on it at Walmart during regular business hours what county business brought them to Walmart during working hours. I also think there are many positions that have either outlived there usefulness and/or are not needed. I am sure there are positions such as assistant to ??? and the assistant to the assistant of ???, or there a positions that could share a secretary instead of having 2 or 3 secretaries. I also hope you would be looking at any positions that have people in them who are not actually working. I know recently a local government board had 10 employee's on the books but only 6 of those were actually working, because either they were not giving those 4 people hours or those 4 people were not working hours for what whatever reason of their own doing. This local government board said it did not matter that they were on the books as employee's they were not costing the government (residents) anything because they were not working. The attorney informed them that because they were listed as official employees the government (residents) were still paying disability insurance, etc. for these non-working employees and therefore, were costing the government (residents)money, so I hope you are looking for these positions in the county also and terminate them. Bottom line stop wasting money and cut cost were it will not put county residents in danger. Leave the fire, law enforcement, EMS alone and cut where it will not hurt the residents.

John Roach
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The problem with the inmate transportation is the female inmates. We do no house them in our jail, but have to pay other counties to take them. And the other counties do not always have room to keep them all in the same place. The result is that they are all over the upstate area. And each inmate needs 2 officers to pick them up. If you 2 females who have to go to court on a given day and one is near in Elmira and one in Rochester, that's 4 officers and 2 cars. That comes from the road patrols, leaving fewer around here. The CO's would have been assigned to transport the inmates since they are paid less and would leave the road deputies here. Truth is, we need all 3. As for Wal Mart, it is many times cheaper to run over there to buy a few items than order thru State contracts-it saves money.

Howard B. Owens
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John's right. You can have an inmate in Livingston and an inmate in Stuben and one goes to Alabama Town Court and the other goes to Byron Town Court and one is in the morning and the other in the afternoon, and now multiply that by a dozen or more female inmates who all have to be at every court appearance, even if it's just a status update.

Also, county staffing runs pretty lean now. Cutting positions at this point means reducing services. The county has been cutting and cutting for years. I forget the numbers, but Tim Hens has talked about before how County Highway has something like half the staffing it had when he started.

Rich Richmond
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Cuts in Sheriff’s Department is not viable, or even wise, however, eliminating Friday, and giving a three day weekend for the County Workers at the Social Services at 5130 E. Main Street Batavia, NY 14020, if such cuts are needed makes more sense.

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