Niagara Gazette

November 15, 2012

County projecting 3 percent tax increase

By Joyce Miles
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — Lawmakers pledged spending cuts will be made in the 2013 tentative Niagara County budget, which was released Thursday.

The general spending plan, rolled out by County Manager Jeffrey Glatz and budget director Daniel Huntington, anticipates a 23-cent or 3 percent increase in the average property tax rate to finance all “vital services.” It also calls for elimination of 35 full-time county jobs, most of which are already vacant.

The proposed $321.9 million spending plan shows a $5.4 million, or 1.7 percent, increase in year-over-year county spending.

Huntington asserted the budget is more accurately termed a $229 million county spending plan, showing a less-than-1 percent increase in county spending, after subtraction of big line items that the county has no control over.

$47.2 million is the county’s mandated contribution to New York state Medicaid, and $45.9 million is the amount of sales tax that it will turn over to local cities and towns. Those sums are merely “in and out” of the budget, Huntington said.

The budget keeps the county within the state-mandated “tax cap,” according to Glatz. Municipalities are encouraged to keep year-over-year increases in the tax levy — the total amount of money raised from property tax — to less than 2 percent, with exceptions for appropriations including judgments, increases in employee pension contributions and big, sudden changes in Payment In Lieu of Taxes income.

The loss of $2 million in PILOT money next year, after modification of a tax-relief agreement for Somerset Power Co., helps drives the county’s “hard” tax cap up to 5.08 percent, Glatz said.

The 2013 tentative tax levy, $74.4 million, is $2.6 million or 3.7 percent more than this year’s levy. The increase exceeds the 2 percent cap that’s been so well publicized by state officials, but it’s under the hard cap, so the county legislature would not have to take special measures in order to enact the budget as proposed.

There will be changes — i.e. spending cuts — before it’s adopted anyway, legislative Majority Caucus Leader Richard Updegrove, R-Lockport, said Thursday. Legislators have until Dec. 18 to propose line item changes and put them up to a vote.

“We intend to work these next few to lower the tax burden,” Updegrove said in an e-mailed statement. “We will seek input from our department heads and work with them to achieve further reductions ... .”

All department heads were given 2013 spending reduction “targets,” averaging 3 to 3.5 percent, this past April. Since then, Glatz said, they reviewed staffing and operations with an eye on how to hit the targets without eliminating services.

Of the $5.4 million increase in year-over-year spending, $3.4 million comes from mandated, or non-negotiable, appropriations: Medicaid, employee pension contributions, welfare/safety net programs and preschool special education.