Steuben County Legislature adopts $221 million budget, tax changes

Corning Bureau

BATH, N.Y. (WETM) – Steuben County Legislators adopted the proposed $221 million budget for 2022, which includes a decline in county taxes at an average of $0.15 per $1,000.

The budget, which was approved following the Monday public hearing, includes a tax levy of $51.5 million.

Actual tax rates depend on each municipality’s valuation which is determined by a complicated state formula.

“This is a very good budget,” said county Legislature Chairman Scott Van Etten, R-Caton. “Our increase in
spending (in 2022) is up only 1 percent, the tax rate is down and we corrected things we knew would need
correcting.”

The adopted budget includes filling approximately a dozen vacant positions left open in 2021, notably in Public Works.

Van Etten credited the tight budget on the groundwork laid by county Manager and Budget Officer Jack Wheeler, county Deputy Manager Christopher Brewer, county Finance Commissioner Tammy Hurd-Harvey, county Deputy Finance Commissioner Mitch Alger and the department heads.

“A lot of work is done before the committees see the budget,” Van Etten said. While spending has been kept under 1 percent and the average tax rate down compared to previous years’ rates, the total budget of $221 million includes a $27.3 million increase compared to $194 million in the current spending plan. The increase is offset by reserve funds earmarked for the $13 million landfill expansion and a 9 percent increase in other revenues.

The total proposed expenses for 2022 is $221,043,320 (an increase of $27,197,420 or 14.03) and projected revenues have also increased for 2022, totaling $169,520,891, an increase of $26,701,726 or 18.69 percent.

County Manager and Budget Officer Jack Wheeler told legislators that increase reflects an approximate
$13 million price tag for the construction of a new cell at the county Landfill on Turnpike Road, paid at no
cost to taxpayers through an enterprise fund, and offset by a 9 percent increase in other revenues.

The proposed budget includes an 11 percent increase in health insurance expense, “which coincides with a like increase in the employees’ premium share.”

In addition, two of the county’s three bargaining units have contracts that either have expired or will expire by the end of this year. As a result, the 2022 proposed budget also anticipates an increased cost of wages for staff.

The biggest increases to the proposed budget are for transportation (a 6.90 percent increase) and culture/recreation (6.85 percent). The transportation increase is also the largest total funding increase of $1,659,209 compared to a $33,758 increase for culture/recreation.

During budget development, the Finance Committee has supported a draft budget that fills eight vacancies in the department that were zero-based last year, along with an investment of $2 million for major equipment, which will significantly benefit the department’s efforts.

Budget categories that face potential decreases include education, home & community services, and general government.

The county cost of the Steuben County Jail has increased $492,263 due to a $100,000 increase in the overtime budget and a $300,000 increase in medical costs.

The budget includes a 45 percent boost, amounting to $282,500, for tourism-related agencies, notably the Steuben County Conference and Visitors Bureau due to a rebound in room tax revenues.

Notable changes are restoration to prior year funding levels for Maintenance of Bridges, an increase of $647,500. Contractual costs within the General Repairs budget have also been increased by $235,442, with adjustments in a number of line items, including pavement striping, which was largely deferred in 2021.

In recommendation of the Commissioner of Public Works, the Finance Committee agreed to utilize $800,000 of Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding to aid in the purchase of addition major equipment, raising this funding level to $2 million for 2022. While this is the first year in recent memory CHIPS funds have been partially used for equipment, the county still retains $3,629,818 of these funds for county road repairs and improvements.

The county’s year-to-date sales tax collections through the end of October are up $8,506,922 or 19.88% compared to last year during the COVID-19 shutdowns

For 2022, the county is projecting $899,700 in room tax collections, an increase of $282,500 or 45.77 percent.

With a slight increase in the tax levy and a reduction in the average tax rate, the 2022 Steuben County Budget is compliant with the NYS Tax Cap and is a responsible fiscal blueprint for the coming year. Thankfully, with the influx of federal funds that stabilized the state’s financial position, counties do not face the immediate threat of massive reductions in aid. In addition, with millions of dollars in federal funds allocated to local governments through ARPA, we have the flexibility to fund capital expenditures without placing that burden on local taxpayers.

We must always monitor new or changing initiatives from Albany, as the actions of the Governor and State Legislature remain the largest threat to our local spending plans and priorities. We will continue to work closely with our elected state representatives, the NYS Association of Counties, and our contacts in state government to ensure that our voices are heard during the development of the state budget.

With a thoughtful and engaged Legislature, talented and dedicated department heads, and high-quality staff, Steuben County remains positioned to be very successful in 2022.

The full Steuben County 2022 proposed budget can be reviewed online.

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