Niagara Gazette — An average 12-cent tax rate cut is in the offing in the proposed 2014 county budget released last week by County Manager Jeffrey Glatz.
The tentative $333 million spending plan is financed from income sources including county property tax collection of $72.8 million. The tax levy would be reduced by $378,000 or 0.5 percent compared to this year’s levy.
The projected average tax rate is $7.60 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That’s 12 cents or 1.6 percent less than the 2013 average rate.
The budget projects $5.9 million of increased net county spending next year. The lion’s share of the increase is consumed by two mandatory items: “Safety Net,” the state-ordered welfare program whose total county cost is on track to increase by $2.1 million, to $7.4 million; and health insurance for county employees and retirees, the tab for which is set to rise by $2.3 million, to $28.6 million.
To offset the health insurance increase, Budget Director Daniel Huntington said, all non-union employees will start paying 10 percent of the cost of their premiums in 2014. County legislators who take insurance have been paying 20 percent for several years.
There is no offsetting the Safety Net increase. The state program, also referred to as “Temporary Assistance,” provides cash benefits to non-working poor after federal welfare benefits, which are limited to 5 years, expire. The state used to split the cost of Safety Net with its counties 50/50, but in 2011 shifted the formula so that counties are now picking up 71 percent of the cost.
Niagara County resident enrollment in Safety Net has risen steadily since 2000, according to Glatz. As of September 2013, more than half of all welfare cases are Safety Net, which is not time-limited. New York is the only state in the country that has such a program, Glatz observed.
The county’s Medicaid tab for resident recipients will decrease by nearly 1 percent or $447,000 next year. That’s only due to the county having to make less weekly payment to the state in 2014, however, according to Huntington.