St. Lawrence County tentative budget would lower overall tax levy on taxpayers by $100,000
By JIMMY LAWTON
CANTON – The tentative budget presented by St. Lawrence County Administrator Ruth Doyle would lower the tax levy by nearly $100,000 to $47.5 million.
For St. Lawrence County property taxpayers that would result in a reduction of about $4 in the county tax bill for someone with property assessed at $100,000. The new rate would drop from $8.39 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $8.35 per $1,000.It would also meet the goal of growing the county’s fund balance. According to an executive summary provided by Doyle, the county hopes to add $1.1 million to the fund balance, providing more economic security to the county and limit the need to borrow money in order to meet cash flow needs.
The tentative budget achieves these goals despite increases in state retirement costs. This is due in part to about $4 million in increased revenues and a $2 million reduction in health insurance costs.
The budget is not without cuts. Two full-time equivalency positions are being eliminated in the budget with an estimated savings of $165,960. This was done through attrition and consolidation of duties. The cuts are the net result of abolished and created jobs.
On paper the county eliminated four full-time community services positions, one highway department position and four part-time sheriff’s office jobs.
However, the county also created one full-time community service position, one county clerk position, one information technology position, one treasurer’s office position and four part-time solid waste jobs.
According to information provided by Doyle, the county has improved its overall fund balance by 285 percent in the past three years and currently has an unrestricted balance of $5.3 million. The county’s goal is to end the practice of borrowing money for cash flow within the next two years.
Doyle’s presentation included a second option for legislators that would raise the property tax rate by 11 cents to $8.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Doyle said this option would allow the county to add money to contingency and fund balance, which would reduce the county’s reliance on borrowing money at a faster rate.
It should be noted however that reduction in the tax levy won’t mean reduced taxes for all county property tax bills. A change in the worker’s compensation distribution formula will create larger charge backs for taxpayers in some municipalities including Massena and Ogdensburg, which saw substantial increases in costs when the formula was recalculated. Likewise many taxpayers may see lower than normal chargebacks due to the change.
In her budget message Doyle said reduced borrowing was a primary goal.
“Early on in the budget process, the discussion regarding borrowing took place. This is one factor which demonstrates a great deal with regard to financial position of an organization with just one number,” she said. “A review of cash flow demonstrates how this number can fluctuate and at any given time $10 million can be outstanding from New York State. At the September Finance Committee Meeting, a request of the Board of Legislators to authorize a $5 Million Dollar Revenue Anticipation Note for 2018 was approved. This is a reduction of $4.5 million from a year ago.”
Doyle also said a major change in costs for the county are related to the change made with healthcare administration.
“Through a partnership with the unions, discussions regarding healthcare began in late 2016 and have continued throughout the year.”
Doyle said the county switched third party administrators with the support of union leadership from Resolve to Excellus.
“There were costs associated with one-time buyout with the departure from Resolve. This has provided great temporary relief from the cost of healthcare but we recognize that healthcare is on the rise and will continue to influence the cost of operations as much as salaries,” she said.
Doyle said she is pleased with the tentative budget and says the county will continue to work to overcome the financial hardships faced in recent years.
“I am pleased to report that all findings in the two recent Audits of the Financial Condition of St. Lawrence County have been or are actively being addressed. This has resulted in the County no longer being designated as Significantly Fiscally Stressed by the New York State Comptroller’s Office,” she said in her budget message. “These are all indicators of the demonstrated success of the commitment of the Board of Legislators to improve the overall finances in St. Lawrence County. Actions such as these will continue to lead in a direction of reducing the need to borrow annually, the ability to reduce the cost of operating county government, and toward making it more affordable to live and work.”