CHENANGO COUNTY – Chenango County policymakers are mulling over a tentative $112.2 million budget to carry county operations through 2024.
The county’s proposed fiscal plan has a notable 3.5% increase over last year’s $108 million budget, with $3.8 million in added appropriations to pay for inflationary expenses, changes to state mandated programs, and a pay raise for CSEA union employees which went into effect over the summer.
The county’s budgeting process is guided by six self-imposed precepts, explained Chenango County Treasurer Bill Craine. They include: maintaining a balanced budget within reason; adhering to the state mandated tax cap; maintaining a “not in fiscal stress” rating from the NY State Comptroller’s Office; Remaining debt free; keeping a $20 million unassigned general fund surplus; and limiting surplus used for the following year’s budget.
“We’re in full compliance with all those precepts,” Craine said, noting the thirteenth consecutive year in which county officials have put together a budget that falls under the state mandated tax cap. “We have met the cap every year, and we’re very proud of that.”
The new spending plan sets aside a minimum $20 million in surplus which county officials believe will cover inflation costs incurred over the last decade. It also plans for an additional 22 million in local costs to fund state mandated programs which Craine says drove 2023 spending up by roughly 1%.
Social service programs, accounting for almost 25% of budgeted appropriations, remains the largest portion of spending in the coming year. Transportation is the second largest at 21.6 %, followed by public safety at 15.3%
County officials have earmarked about $6 million for mental health which encompasses county-run services in most Chenango County school districts and DCMO BOCES.
Officials say they don’t anticipate cuts to any programming in the coming year.
While local property taxpayers are on the hook for about 27.7% of revenues to be garnered by the county in the upcoming budget, county officials anticipate other revenue streams. Roughly 22 percent of revenues are expected in departmental income, 18.5% in sales tax, 1.7% in state aid, 11.4% in federal aid, and .6% from applied surplus. Another 2.1% is expected from other tax-related items.
Craine said that he’s confident about the 2024 budget; but there are “unpredictable concerns,” namely the effect that an economic downturn would have on local sales taxes. To have any hope of meeting the tax cap in future years, sales tax revenues – fueled largely by auto and gasoline sales – need to at least meet U.S. inflation.
There’s also concern over Chenango County’s declining population. County-wide population has dropped from 50,000 to 47,000 over the last ten years. An aging population also means a lower labor participation rate, Crain pointed out.
“That all puts strains on us because people who are older generally spend less money, which means less sales tax revenue,” he added. A copy of the 2024 budget presentation can be found on the Chenango County website. A local hearing is scheduled to take place at 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 27 at the Chenango County Office Building in Norwich. The county board of supervisors will vote to adopt the budget immediately following the public hearing.