Mitch Rowe

Rowe

WATERLOO — Seneca County Manager Mitch Rowe said the 2020 budget he is crafting likely will show an increase of about $3 million.

However, he was quick to add that the tax levy and tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value won’t go up.

“I’m confident the tax rate will be either the same or less than the 2019 rate,” Rowe said. “The rates will vary by town, depending their level of property assessments to full value.”

The 2019 tax rate on true value was $4.42, he noted.

An anticipated seven-figure increase in sales-tax revenue, highlighted by a possible rise in gaming revenue from del Lago Resort & Casino, is why Rowe is optimistic.

“We are about $1 million ahead of sales-tax revenue from the same time last year,” Rowe confirmed. “I think del Lago has a lot to do with that.”

Rowe said gaming revenue from del Lago in 2019 was budgeted at $2.45 million. He said after two quarters, those projections are right on target, and he will likely budget that same amount for 2020.

“But if their sports betting picks up, their gross revenue could go up, and so would our share of that,” Rowe said.

Another possible revenue development is the county’s tax-reduction fund. The county puts 25 percent of budget surplus money at the end of a fiscal year to carry over to the next year as a way to reduce the tax levy. This year, it made available $2.7 million. Rowe said the surplus has increased to the point where that fund could make up to $3.6 million available, if needed.

“At this point, I’m not sure if state and federal revenue will be up or down or the same,” Rowe said. “The room-occupancy tax, which goes to promote tourism, will be budgeted at the same amount as this year, $450,000, for 2020. If del Lago builds a second hotel, the room-tax revenue would increase.”

On the spending side, Rowe said the main reasons for the $3 million increase are salary hikes; implementation of a facilities master plan to move the Mental Health Department into new space; costs associated with early voting and other election reforms; a possible increase in staff for the Public Health Department to meet lead monitoring requirements for children; and bail reform.

“At this point, department head requests have been reasonable and will likely be granted,” Rowe said. “Requests from outside agencies that we support will likely be honored.”

Preparation of water and sewer budgets is proving a bit more challenging, Rowe said, because of uncertainty over the future of the two wastewater treatment plants in the south end. A major factor is the future of the wastewater treatment plan at the Hillside Children’s Center facility on the former Seneca Army Depot. Hillside has moved out of the facilities owned by the county Industrial Development Agency, but will honor its lease until its March 202 expiration.

“We have violations at the plant to deal with,” Rowe said. “We’re trying to devise a plan to avoid a consent order and fines.”

Rowe must file a tentative county budget by Nov. 15.

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