WATERLOO — Seneca County Manager John Sheppard has done his job, presenting a tentative 2018 county budget to the Board of Supervisors and the public.
It is now up to the board to turn that into a final budget, starting with committee meetings Nov. 28 and ending with budget adoption Dec. 12.
The budget calls for minimal increases in spending and property taxes, thanks to an increase in sales tax and gaming revenue from del Lago Resort & Casino.
“This budget maintains the level of public services typically expected, with a few notable exceptions,” Sheppard wrote in his budget message, adding that the budget remains compliant with the state tax levy cap requirements.
Sheppard also makes these points in his message:
OPIOIDS: An increase in mental health and substance abuse services is budgeted to help combat the opiate crisis and expand typical services.
“Procedural improvements, increased accessibility, continued state funding and leveraging billable services all contributed to this enhancement, while reducing the county costs by nearly $300,000,” Sheppard said.
SHARED SERVICES: Several towns have partnered with the county to share snow and ice removal and roadside mowing costs as part of the county’s state-mandated shared services plan.
“The relief of replacing equipment, filling vacancies and the use of nearly $200,000 of transportation fund balance reduces the year-to-year, county cost by nearly $165,000,” Sheppard wrote.
VETERANS: The county Veteran’s Service Agency will add a services officer to enhance capabilities and to help in formulating a succession plan for the director position.
PUBLIC DEFENDER: Sheppard said the county cost of the Public Defender Department is expected to increase by more than $100,000.
‘”While possible grant revenue will be pursued, increased requirements of assigned counsel and public defenders due to the state legislative changes to indigent legal defense such as counsel at first arraignment and a raise in the age for being charged as an adult has yet to be determined,” he said.
OUTSIDE AGENCIES: The tentative budget includes increases in allocations for several outside agencies, such as public libraries, as requested by those agencies.
“This additional funding is made possible by delaying the Law Enforcement Center exterior and interior lighting refurbishment project until 2019,” Sheppard said, adding that the additional funding request should be enacted by board resolution since the draft budget called for the same funding as 2017.
Sheppard said the county is “particularly vulnerable” to fluctuations in sales tax and gaming revenue. He said 41 percent of the county’s revenue comes from those two sources.
“The tax cap legislation limits our ability to increase the real property tax levy a mere $67,000 in 2018, yet our current fiscal position is relatively excellent and overriding the tax cap is nearly indefensible,” he said.
He said the county is realizing the lowest growth in assessable property of the 57 counties outside New York City. That growth rate is 1.02 percent.
The tentative budget shows a 37.1 percent reduction in the use of tax reduction reserves. “Although an improvement, the continued use of the tax reduction reserves to close operating budgets is unsustainable,” Sheppard said. “A combined effort of sustained sales tax revenue, gaming revenue, real property growth, leveraged state and federal subsidies and decreasing expenses is required to remain tax cap compliant.”