By Jim Krencik
Medina Journal-Register — ALBION — The preliminary 2013 Orleans County Budget presented Wednesday by the county’s chief administrative officer features spending and property tax increases despite savings from a further reduction in county services.
The $15.7 million tax levy in CAO Chuck Nesbitt’s $76.1 million budget projection comes in at $76,289 under the limit set by the terms of the state’s tax cap legislation. Property taxes are set to rise 1.25 percent to $9.71 per every $1,000 in assessed value. The levy represents a 1.7 percent increase over the 2012 levels.
Nesbitt told legislators that the proposed spending plan does include areas of relief for taxpayers in the form of including reductions in wages and health insurance costs. Nesbitt said health insurance costs are down nearly $150,000 to negotiated benefit levels decreasing and increased employee participation.
Wages are down in part to the net-reduction of eight full-time positions.
“We are smaller, more nimble and better prepared to face what continues to be an uncertain future,” Nesbitt said.
Legislature Chairman David Callard said he was pleased by the year-to-year cost savings shown in the budget.
“I’m encouraged by the lower health insurance and wage costs,” Callard said. “We’ve brought our wages and staffing carefully down by 10 percent, but that will become increasingly difficult (to continue).”
The largest county employee reduction recommended by the budget is the elimination of eight full-time positions in the Mental Health Department. Five of those reductions come from eliminating the Continuing Day Treatment Program, which provides a service for people requiring assistance with daily living skills but are also able to live at home. The move was unanimously approved by the county’s community services board.
Nesbitt said the state has cut funding for continuing day treatment, which made keeping the program unfeasible. Genesee County has agreed to accept Orleans County clients into their program.
“It’s a very expensive program for a small county,” said Nesbitt.
Additional reductions of a single full-time position are scheduled for the probation, emergency management, public health departments and the office for the aging. Three full-time positions are being added to the computer services department and at the county nursing home.
The Village of Orleans is also adding five part-time positions, with two more part-timers being added to the mental health department, and one more in the clerk’s office and another in the office for the aging. A part-time position is being reduced in the social services department.
The savings from a shrinking county workforce are undone, Nesbitt said, by an $432,707 increase in state retirement funding.
The cost of state retirement and the other programs that make up the so-called “9 for 90” programs that counties are mandated to provide without state funding exceed the entire county property tax levy.
Nesbitt said the real threat on the horizon remains a lack of economic relief from the costs of the “9 for 90,” which includes the 900-lb. gorilla in the room — Medicaid. That program alone accounts for 55 percent of the county property tax bill.
Without a severe shift in how the state pays for those programs, which Governor Andrew Cuomo recently said wasn’t on the table, county services are endangered, Nesbitt noted.
“The county’s growing capital needs, the increasing cost of state programs funded by county property tax, reduced state and federal revenues and a sluggish economy jeopardize our ability to continue to fund local priorities like public safety, highway and the villages of Orleans,” Nesbitt said.
As for Cuomo’s comments, there’s plenty of blame to go around for the county’s high taxes.
“I take offense to the idea that the governor is framing this as ‘I don’t have the money to pay your bills,’ “ Nesbitt said while discussing the budget Tuesday. “This is a case of the state not having the money to pay its bills.”
Contact reporter Jim Krencik
at 798-1400, ext. 6327.2013 Orleans County Preliminary Budget Total Appropriations -- $76,133,318 ($647,578 increase) Total Revenues -- $57,455,138 ($427,472 increase) Total Levy -- $15,661,104 ($261,501 increase) Total Assessments -- $1,612,105,434 ($6,957,839 increase) Property Tax Rate -- $9.71 ($0.12 increase)