Yates County Legislators will present the 2018 tentative budget at a 7 p.m. public hearing Nov.16 in the legislative chambers of the county office building.
The budget, which was the subject of a day and a half long workshop, calls for total spending of over $42.8 million, up just over 3 percent, a local property tax levy of $16.2 million, which is about $198,000 less than what had been proposed by Budget Officer Winona Flynn, and a tax rate of $6.46, a cut of just over 1 percent.
The tentative plan was adopted by a 12-2 vote with District 1 Legislator Elden Morrison and District 3 Legislator Mark Morris casting no votes.
Morris explained his vote in an email message, praising Budget Officer Nonie Flynn and the department managers, but said his “no” was based on the growth in fund balances over the past four years and the cost of public safety.
The county maintains several reserve funds totaling nearly $19.5 million, and the public safety portion of the budget accounts for more than 22 percent of the county’s spending.
Morris explained, “The county has continued to build the fund balances from $8.5 million to $16.5 million over the past four years. I strongly believe that we should give more of this back to the taxpayers for their use instead of socking it away for government use. It represents overtaxation and allows the incumbents to be more lenient on spending control.”
Projecting revenues and spending through 2022, Flynn has determined that while revenues will increase nearly $1 million over the five years, expenses will increase nearly $2 million in the same time frame, despite paying off the principal and interest for the county office building and courthouse in 2020 — annual payments of nearly $1.3 million. “While the fund balance has grown, it is not yet adequate,” she comments, adding that the county has been criticized by the state comptroller’s office for its ratio of fund balance to expenditures.
Morris says he has raised concerns about the county’s public safety costs not being competitive within the state. His criticisms lie in particular with the Sheriff’s Department spending for law enforcement and the county jail.
Morrison said he voted no “because of the absolute refusal of the legislature to address the spending excesses in public safety. I very badly wanted to vote for the budget to recognize the outstanding efforts of the budget officer and the department heads, save public safety. However, when, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the public safety budget is grossly inflated, the legislature refuses year after year (as the evidence mounts) to deal with it. I could not ‘go along.’ We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single year that could be directed to other projects or used to reduce the tax rate. I voted against granting the legislature a raise for the same reason — we, collectively, did not do our job, and therefore do not deserve a raise.”
Morrison and Morris have repeatedly challenged spending in the Sheriff’s Department, which includes law enforcement, communications, jail, dispatch, coroner, court security, STOP DWI, and animal control. Other public safety categories are emergency management, probation, and district attorney.
The tentative plan includes:
• A $2,500 allocation to Mercy Flight Central. This is the first time the county has granted funds to the agency, which had requested 20 cents per county resident, or $5,000. A Mercy Flight Representative told the legislators the air ambulance service does not receive any state or federal funds.
• Funding for a part time clerk in Sheriff’s Department to take over some of the clerical work for records requests that had been done by a deputy. The discussion of personnel services in the Sheriff’s office included a failed motion by Morrison to cut two deputy sheriff positions. Morrison, Morris and District 2 legislator Terry Button voted to cut the positions. The debate about the motion devolved into a familiar exchange among legislators with Morrison and Morris raising concerns they have voiced in the past about costs in the Sheriff’s Office budget areas. Morris said he feels the Public Safety Committee is stonewalling efforts to research ways to reduce costs based on comparisons with similar counties. Public Safety Chair Bill Holgate pointed out the difference between micro-managing the department and managing for the safety of the Yates County public. The funding ($14,000) will be included in the budget, but creation of the position will be subject to a vacancy review process.
• Legislator salaries that are unchanged since 2010. District 1 Legislator Taylor Fitch had proposed increasing legislator salaries by $1,000 each and adding a $1,000 annual stipend for committee chairs, but the motion was voted down by a narrow margin. Voting in favor of the motion were Timothy Dennis (District 2); Douglas Paddock and Taylor Fitch, (District 1); Bonnie Percy and Bill Holgate (District 4); and Dan Banach and Leslie Church (District 3). Morris commented that he felt some legislators deserved the increase while others did not.
• Increased salaries for the budget officer (an additional $2,982), election commissioners (an additional $2,000), and election workers (to $12.50 per hour). District 2 Legislator Terry Button cast the lone no votes against the increases for budget officer and election commissioners. The increase for election workers was unanimously approved with Fitch abstaining.
• A Natural Resources Fund will be established with $45,467 from the county’s share of occupancy tax revenues. Organizations with resources that fit the newly adopted policy can apply for a grant from the line item. Applications for $25,000 have already been received for review by the Finance Committee. Button cast the lone no vote after his attempt to amend the line item to $10,093 was not seconded.
• Over $7.1 million in spending for road machinery and roads, an increase of 10.39 percent.
• Anticipated sales tax revenues of $11.5 million and
• Use of $1 million of general fund balance to offset the total tax levy. The budget also includes a $500,000 budget stabilization fund and reserves for capital spending and special items.
The legislature must adopt the final budget by Dec. 20.
A copy of the budget is posted on the Yates County Website at www.yatescounty.org.