Yates adopts $42.8 million budget with tax rate cut

Gwen Chamberlain The Chronicle-Express

The Yates County Legislature has adopted the 2018 $42.8 million budget with a levy of $16.2 million, and a county tax rate of $6.46 per $1,000 of assessed value, a reduction of 7 cents from the 2017 rate.

Budget Officer Winona Flynn says the plan maintains all existing programs, and adds a $2,500 grant to Mercy Flight Central and a new budget line for funding natural and recreational resouces at $45,467. Other new considerations include: a reduced payment to Southern Tier Network (broadband system) due to other revenue; the loss of Seneca Nation gaming revenue of about $137,000; anticipated impacts to public safety, social services and legal services when the age of criminal responsibility raises to 17 years old on Oct. 1, 2018.

An increase in the total value of taxable property in the county has helped reduce the tax rate, says Flynn.

Major expenses include upgrades to the court house security system, technology equipment, shower replacement in the jail, six marked vehicles for the Sheriff’s Department, paving 11.3 miles of county highways, a tandem haul truck, mowing tractor, two one-ton trucks, a half ton pick up, and a hydro-seeder.

Following a public hearing and failed attempts to make two adjustments to the spending plan, legislators approved the budget with one “no” vote cast by District 1 Legislator Elden Morrison. Three legislators — Bill Holgate of District 4, Terry Button of District 2, and Ed Bronson of District 1 — were absent.

Morrison said he voted against the budget reluctantly. “I’ve been here four years and I’ve tried hard to get some reductions in the public safety area, but I’ve been unsuccessful.”

District 2 Legislator Jim Smith, who will not be returning to his seat for a new term in January, said he feels the spending plan is a fair, reasonable budget, but he would like to see further reduction in the tax levy. He would like to see the legislature allocate more funds to cultural, recreational and arts areas.

Smith had offered a motion to increase the salaries of the county’s two elections commissioners, but it was narrowly voted down. Three taxpayers spoke in support of the salary increases.

Dixon Zorovich, who ran for a seat on the legislature this year, said she saw the valuable services the commissioners provide first hand, and noted even with a raise that is in the budget, they are the lowest paid in New York State. Judy Duquette of Dundee compared the commissioner’s salaries to other positions within the county, and said, “It’s time to show equality.”

District 3 Legislator Mark Morris offered a motion to apply $200,000 from the fund balance to reduce the tax levy, because he’s concerned about the rate of the growth of the fund balance. While the county has reserves totalling $19.5 million, some of those savings are restricted.

Morris said over five years the total unassigned fund balances have gone from $8.5 million to $16.5 million.

Legislative Chairman Timothy Dennis cautioned against using reserves, saying, “If you’re going to use your savings account, you better use it on capital expenses.” The motion was turned down with Morrison, Morris, and Smith voting in favor.