Yates County Legislators have adopted a tentative 2013 budget with total spending of $40.8 million that relies on $14.7 million in local property taxes, an increase of the local property tax levy of 14.7 percent.
Two legislators — Leslie Church and Mark Morris, both of Milo, voted against the budget at the group's sixth budget workshop, held before a packed house in the legislative chambers on the evening of Dec. 6.
At the beginning of the workshop, the potential tax levy increase stood at 16.7 percent, but adjustments brought the numbers down to this level, and legislators can make additional adjustments at the meeting where a public hearing on the spending plan will be held. That public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 17 in the Penn Yan Middle School auditorium.
Before voting on the tentative budget, the legislators also heard several comments from taxpayers, and Chairman Taylor Fitch responded to a recent letter to the editor from Steve Marchionda, who has suggested an independent committee review county finances, and who also spoke at the session.
Fitch said he agrees with much of what Marchionda wrote, and invites the public to get more involved. "Come and look at the books," he urged. "We want you to understand the way we operate. If you can find something we're missing, we'll look at it."
After the meeting, Fitch said the idea of having a special committee look at the county finances is something he wants to formulate more. He said he expects to look into the idea more following the holidays.
Asked to comment on the concept after the meeting, Marchionda said, "I am in the process of trying to determine who else might be interested in engaging in such an effort. While I have no issue doing the work, still it's a lot of work and my concern would be whether anyone on the Legislature would really do anything meaningful with the data and recommendations such a group would produce. If the attendance at the budget hearing last night was any indication, there simply doesn't seem to be all that much public outcry for a reduction of spending."
The legislators made cuts in spending or increases in anticipated revenue in several budget areas for a total reduction in the tax levy of more than $250,000.
The changes had all been reviewed at committee meetings earlier in the week, when department heads provided detail about the impact of additional cuts of 5 percent to their budgets.
The only cut that was not accepted by the legislators was the elimination of a 911 dispatcher position that is vacant.
District I Legislator Donna Alexander, chair of the Public Safety committee, said she would not offer a motion to reduce the position. However, District II Legislator Tim Dennis did offer the motion, which was seconded by District II Legislator Rick Willson.
Page 2 of 2 - The motion was turned down, with Fitch, Willson, Mark Morris, Leslie Church and Rob Schwarting, all of Milo voting to cut the post.
"The sheriff came to us with $100,000 in cuts tonight that are in addition to that," said Dennis, noting the legislators just agreed to not buy three new marked vehicles and to not fill the soon to be vacated chief deputy post.
During the discussion on the motion, District III Legislator Dan Banach said, "If I'm going to make a mistake on this legislature, it's not going to be this. When we can restore a motor vehicle clerk for customer service, but we can't fill a dispatcher position..."
District IV Legislator Bill Holgate said he is concerned about the potential for increased overtime if the position is cut. Later in the meeting, when members of the public questioned keeping the position and the legislator's analysis of the post, Holgate said the dispatcher position is "probably the most analyzed position out there. The fact is, Ron Spike has always done a good job of all sorts of analysis regarding call volume, and he said if he had to make a cut, he would cut, but it would affect what they do."
District I Legislator Douglas Paddock added, "The position was reviewed in August and data showed then that it would be needed."
Glen Miller, former Director of Emergency Services noted the county tried to have dispatch managed by one person in the 1980s and it didn't serve the public well then.
The larger cuts included $148,047 from the Sheriff's Department and $64,739 from Public Health.
Cuts were also made to allocations earmarked for Yates County Soile & Water District, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Yates County and The Arc of Yates.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, legislators discussed the county's finances and operating expenses with those who spoke, explaining some of the issues that influence spending.
Marchionda and others said they would like to see an analysis of data from dispatch and the sheriff's department. Fitch also said Sheriff Ron Spike has conducted a study of the jail staffing, which accounts for the highest overtime costs — around $290,000 for 2012.
When a woman read a widely circulated email written by a former investigator in the sheriff's department that was critical of past spending practices, County Administrator Sarah Purdy, who is also the budget officer, explained that the year-end spending mentioned in the email was in reality budget transfers to cover over-spending in other areas. She and legislators disputed other items mentioned in the email.