County Tries To Keep Tax Increase Under 1 Percent
Published: November 5th, 2009
By: Melissa deCordova

NORWICH – It took more surplus than members of the Chenango County Finance Committee were comfortable with, $1.34 million to be exact, but proposing a 2010 budget that calls for only a slight burden on taxpayers was deemed more important.

After crunching the numbers and reviewing departmental requests for equipment, the county’s primary decision-makers will present a budget for consideration to the full board of supervisors on Monday, one that calls for only a .6 percent tax increase on spending of nearly $81 million.

A proposed average countywide tax rate of $13.75 will fluctuate, either increasing or decreasing, in all 22 municipalities based on state-established equalization rates. (See sidebar.)

The amount is a far cry from the nearly 5 percent increase projected just two weeks ago. The amount was shaved down to 4.73 percent after the county treasurer’s office found “housekeeping” errors in the public safety and information technology departments - a freezer billed twice and the new IT director’s salary over-reported. Later, a Chenango County Sheriff’s Office request for a dump truck was denied and a rubber tired loader for the Department of Public Works was moved into this year’s budget.

The board of supervisors will be asked, also on Monday, to decide whether to purchase the $250,000 loader - again with county surplus. DPW Director Randy Gibbon said the current loader was more than 20 years old. “We are driving junk. The towns have better equipment than we do,” he said.

The equipment list for all departments, most of which is partially funded by either state or federal cost-sharing, totaled more than $1 million before the changes.

In addition, Gibbon was asked to hold back on road work planned and based on projected New York State Consolidated Highways Improvement Program funding.

The changes brought the increase down to 2.13 percent. The amount was further shaved to less than 1 percent after a $340,000 application of surplus. (A million dollars of applied surplus was already included in the original estimate.)

Based on assessors’ data and equalization changes, Real Property Tax Director Steven Harris reported 4 percent in countywide growth from new construction this year. The amount of surplus to apply was selected in order to make the property tax increase reflect that growth.

In recent years, supervisors have agreed to apply $1 million or more to balance the budget. The amount applied was $1.5 million 2005, $1.35 in 2005, 2006 and 2007 budget years, but just $1 million in 2008 and this year.

The county began the year with $16.6 million in surplus. Chenango County Treasurer William E. Evans called surplus, a “tax stabilization fund” that is tapped “under extreme fiscal stress.”

“It only buys us some time. This is economy driven by things like lower sales tax and cuts in administrative aid,” he said. Take-backs of nearly $1 million in federal Medicaid assistance funding for administration expenses in the county’s social services department “is standing between us and having to apply surplus,” he said.

Finance Committee Vice Chairperson Dennis Brown, D-Pharsalia, led a lengthy discussion of property assessments, and said the towns of Coventry and Greene completed revaluation projects that had “unfairly compromised” towns that have low equalization rates, such as Pharsalia, Lincklaen and German.

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