Niagara Gazette

November 30, 2012

County budget hearing set for Tuesday

Staff reports
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The Niagara County Legislature will hold a public hearing on the proposed 2013 county budget Tuesday.

Elements of the $321.9 million spending plan include a 23-cent, or 3 percent, increase in the average property tax rate — even though the plan anticipates a less-than-2-percent increase in year-over-year county spending.

Niagara's share of the bills for state-mandated programs will rise by $3.4 million in 2013, according to Budget Director Daniel Huntington. Increases in two programs, Medicaid and county employee pension contributions, account for about $3 million of that increase. The Medicaid portion, $1.7 million, is owed to the state collecting 53 weekly payments from the county, instead of 52.

On top of the spending increases, the county will  "lose" $2 million after amendment of the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement it has with Somerset Power Co., formerly AES Somerset.

On a directive from County Manager Jeffrey Glatz to cut overall county spending by 3 percent from 2012, department heads found savings by cutting vacant jobs and reassigning duties, and in some cases reorganizing programs/services. For instance, the Office for the Aging has proposed reductions in the number and operating hours of some congregate dining sites in the Niagara Falls area.

Overall, administration proposed eliminating 35 full-time and five part-time jobs in the budget, some but not all presently vacant. Eight nursing jobs in the county jail medical unit are being eliminated as the operation is taken over by a private medical company, possibly this month; and six occupied clerical positions in the health department are being cut after sale of the county's home health care business to Catholic Health Services.

The budget imposes a pay freeze for most of the 1,393-member county workforce, according to Huntington.

The public hearing on the proposed general budget will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in legislative chambers at Niagara County Courthouse.

Hearings on the water, sewer and refuse district assessment rolls precede it, starting at 6 p.m. The budget projects a 2.5 percent reduction in the water tax levy, a 10.5 percent reduction in the refuse levy and a 1-percent increase in the sewer levy.