May floods erode funds

Gwen Chamberlain

Roads, shorelines, stream banks and fields aren’t the only things that were severely eroded by last month’s floods.

Yates County lawmakers are beginning to find out how the costs of the storm damage are dissolving the county’s cash on hand and the 2015 budget. At the June 3 County Legislature Finance Committee meeting, Administrator Sarah Purdy and Highway Superintendent David Hartman explained that road repair supplies have been used up to carry out repairs following the mid-May floods.

Just to replenish those supplies, such as rip rap, the road fund needs over $131,000.

In addition, County Treasurer Winona Flynn reported the county spent $28,000 in overtime during one pay period. The overtime costs are shared by emergency services, highway and other departments.

Purdy says the $150,000 in storm-related costs to date will put pressure on all departments for the remainder of the year, since it will draw the contingent fund down to about $200,000.

Flynn said there is cash in the road fund that will help cover some of the the expenses, but Hartman also expressed concerns about other planned capital projects. To make things even more challenging, he said newly-discovered major damage on the Italy Turnpike Road could cost up to $500,000 to repair.

There, a landslide into a deep gully has undercut the shoulder and a portion of the paved county highway.

The finance committee members agreed to not expect Hartman to put planned projects on hold to avoid exceeding the tax levy cap in 2015 due to the expense of flood damage repairs.

Purdy noted there is also a deficit in the line item for propane in the highway fund.

To add to the woes, Purdy and Flynn both reported that officials from the New York State Association of Counties are advising that localities should not increase projections for sales tax revenues.

Flynn’s report to the finance committee included detail about sales tax revenue since Jan. 1. Year-to-date sales tax revenues are down more than 3 percent from last year’s revenues. As of May 13, Yates County had taken in $2.89 million, compared to $2.99 million last year.

The legislators also discussed the approaching 2015 budget season, and expectations of some property taxpayers that the budget will stay within the tax levy cap. Purdy reported a “very preliminary” tax cap calculation estimates that the levy can be increased by about $375,000 without exceeding the tax cap. If the county plans to recoup some of the storm damage spending in the 2015 budget, the tax cap will be an even tighter squeeze.

Although pension costs and debt service expenses are expected to decline some, other increases are expected. CSEA wages will increase about $150,000, and lawmakers will be entering negotiations with two bargaining units this year.

The county also will begin making payments to the village of Penn Yan to compensate for lost property tax revenue due to payments-in-lieu of taxes agreements with the hotels planned for construction.

In other revenue-related news, the occupancy and sales tax revenue bump that may have been anticipated coming as soon as next spring when the Hampton Inn was scheduled to open, will not materialize because that project will be delayed. Developer Chris Iversen says the hotel won’t open until the spring of 2016. (See the related article on page 1.)

Finally, in reviewing the upcoming budget process, Purdy explained that although the intent will be to prepare a budget that keeps the tax levy within the state’s tax cap, she recommends the legislature still adopt a local law to override the cap.

She says the local law protects the county, and it can be rescinded at a later date to make taxpayers eligible for the property tax rebates promised by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.