Pembroke Town Supervisor Thomas Schneider understands that Genesee County has some rough financial waters to navigate, however, he still wants county officials to remember that he and other municipalities are out there working to maintain their vessels as well.
"Now, it's nice that the county rate is reduced again. But I just want to encourage the Legislature to remember the towns and villages," Schneider said during the county’s budget hearing Wednesday at the old County Courthouse in Batavia. "And I know you've got a lot of other expenses and departments to deal with, but, you know, that did put a significant hit on the town budgets. And I hate to keep sounding like a broken record … we're appreciative of whatever can be shared. I'm a strong supporter of the whole ship working together to stay afloat.”
Genesee County Manager Matt Landers released his 2024 budget and related message on Friday, and this week included the entire financial summary for the nearly $183 million spending plan, an increase of $20 million from 2023. It includes a property tax levy of $32.7 million, a $1.5 million cash surplus, a $17.4 million year-end fund balance, $104 million in revenues and $138 million in appropriations.
This isn't the first time Schneider has come to talk to legislators about his plight as a cash-strapped supervisor, and he has been accompanied in the past by other supervisors as well. No matter the outcome, he wants to keep up with the message, he said.
“You know, I think I'm slowly getting into the fifth stage of grief at this point where it's acceptance. The local level tends to be where most of the people come to voice their concerns, it seems like, and trying to get them to understand what the new normal is in Genesee County and in the town of Pembroke is sometimes a little tough. So I don't want to upset anybody if I'm directing them to the County Legislature because, you know, our budget has not increased from 2018. We're still running at 2018 levels in our budgets,” he said. “So I would love to be able to have an increase in my budget each year, but then I've got to put that on the taxpayers and in the town, and so we have to think long and hard about those increases."
Of the general fund expenses, there is a $5.2 million increase in the water fund because of the Phase 2 water project, he said. The good news, Landers said: “That is a one-time, non-reoccurring” cost.
“So we don’t expect to see that in the 2025 budget,” he said. “So as far as the $20 million, $5 million of it is right there. That won’t be back next year. “$4.8 million of it is an increase in salaries and related employer FICA costs.”
People that go the public defender’s office and have some type of conflict and have to instead to assigned counsel, there’s a reimbursement cost for that, “which is causing a million dollar increase in costs,” Landers said. “The state is reimbursing half of that. But for the purposes of showing what the increased expenditures are, it is important to note that a million dollars of that is because the aid can be raised. Another $1.3 million is from NYS retirement, and a million dollar increase in Medicaid local share.”
Landers credited increased sales tax, including gasoline sales tax, and a cash surplus for a decreased sales tax rate by 37 cents for the proposed $8.08 per $1,000 assessed value. According to county history, that’s the lowest tax rate in at least 26 years, though total appropriations have risen from $72.6 million in 1997 to nearly $182.8 million in this proposed budget.
That’s in the face of some steep financial bills moving forward as the county has a looming $150 million Phase 3 water project and $70 million new jail facility in progress with the tabs yet to be paid.
As of Dec. 31 of this year, the county will have an outstanding debt of $85.8 million for the Phase 2 water ($2.92 million), jail construction ($69.1 million), GCEDC STAMP water ($2.82 million), GCC athletic fields/gym/locker rooms ($175,000) and Wellness Center ($6.96 million), airport terminal construction ($2.9 million), and the Sheriff’s administration building ($920,000).
Landers gave examples of some department highlights and related cash infusions, including a couple of years ago, when there were some substantial and sizable increases for one-time projects that could not grow “without our support.”
“We once again asked if we wanted to keep that funding going on to demonstrate the need and demonstrate what that money would show as a return from the main investments. Examples are that we have our Jocelyn here from Cornell Cooperative, and we have the Ag in the Classroom program, which has been a huge success, so much so that she wants to expand upon that. There was a request to expand upon that, and in the 2024 budget, we're going to see if we can make that happen in 2025,” he said. “Workforce development that GCC has, we’ve been able to put in place, that these extra funds that the Legislature has been able to invest in is paying off in our community.
"GCC, we've asked them to continue on with just a $50,000 increase. I say that's less than 2 percent of what we contribute to GCC overall, and inflation is going up by much more than 2 percent. So I think that's still a very, very conscientious move for the Legislature to try to keep them limited to $50,000," he said. "Sometimes in the past we would say, no increase for several years in a row. And then we would have to catch up and have to do a large shock to our budget. So I think this is a very measured approach.”
He put $30 million in the budget for mandated services for social services and new jail needs, he said. The new jail facility required hiring six additional correctional officers and one full-time cleaner for a total of seven new positions, Landers said. Every new state-mandated post at the jail means five and half new positions, he said.
He hopes to recoup some of those expenses with boarding of inmates from the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, he said.
Genesee County used to have a more generous profit-sharing formula with its towns and villages, and with the three-phase water projects, that formula was recalculated two years ago that reduced that flattened the annual amount, a calculation that Schneider and other supervisors have critiqued in the past. This time Schneider said he just wants to be a gentle reminder that “we’re still here” and in need of funding whenever that might be possible.
“That's really all I had to say. The sales tax agreement was changed in 2018 because the county needed additional revenue. I don't think it solves anything to be too hard on anybody, but just the fact of the matter is it does put a hole in our budget, we've not increased our spending, our revenues have essentially decreased," Schneider said after the hearing. "So, you know, I just didn't want it lost on the legislature that it is still an impact. I don't want to tell anybody how to do their budget, I try to steer clear of telling other boards and groups how to do their job, but I think all budgets do have wiggle room in them.
"I don't think there's any changes at this point to it, other than just asking for more revenue sharing, because in the 2020 sales tax agreement, whenever that was passed, 2021, there was a possibility of additional revenue if the county had it available, so I just want to make sure we're not silent in the process, keeping in there,” he said.
The county invites public feedback, Landers and Legislative Chairwoman Shelley Stein said. The Legislature plans to have further budget sessions and is scheduled for a final vote on Nov. 20.