MALONE - Franklin County legislators at a budget workshop Tuesday morning said they want to stay under 2 percent with their tax levy increase for 2013.
County Manager Tom Leitz asked them for direction in moving forward with the budget for Thursday's regular board meeting.
Leitz presented a plan for bringing the tax levy to $14.88 million, a 1.91 percent increase from 2012. That's down from the $15.41 million levy that was in the county's tentative 2013 budget, filed at the beginning of October.
Leitz outlined his budget changes line by line.
In some cases, he adjusted budget lines to reflect historical spending. He cut out about $6,000 in meals and lodging for several different departments, because they are spending less than the budget line this year.
He also cut about $50,000 in unemployment insurance from each county department. He said he had originally included the numbers from last year, but since the county laid off 14 employees between last year and the beginning of this year, it had to plan for higher expenses in that category this year. Next year, there won't be as much of a need to spend on unemployment, since this budget doesn't include any layoffs, Leitz said.
In other cases, Leitz found ways to save money by using leftover funds from this year. He said he scraped together money from his budget this year to buy a computer, rather than include it in next year's budget, and money from this year is being added to a postage machine so the money can be used next year.
Leitz said he wasn't able to find enough cuts to get the levy under 2 percent, but he increased his estimate for an anticipated auction of foreclosed properties next year. He originally estimated the auction would bring in $100,000 but increased that number to $250,000 after looking at the list of properties the county is foreclosing on, including some in the south end like a waterfront lot in the town of Santa Clara.
"Some of the assessments for those properties are hundreds of thousands," Leitz said.
He also increased his estimate for sales tax income by $50,000, to $21 million, saying that that's about what the county is on pace to finish at this year.
His plan uses $1.13 million in fund balance from the nursing home, which is operating entirely on its fund balance in 2013, and $700,444 in retirement reserves.
Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, agreed that the sales tax projection could increase. He said it could go even higher, but he's not sure that Leitz's estimate for property sales is low enough, so he said the numbers would balance out.
Maroun also explained that Treasurer Bryon Varin told legislators they have a little wiggle room in their tax levy this year. Since they were under their tax cap last year, the state would allow them to exceed it by that much this year, Maroun said.
"It's not hard money," Maroun said, it's just an allowance by the state.
But the six legislators present Tuesday said they're still interested in staying under 2 percent.
Leitz said he wants to have a final number for the board to approve on Thursday. They may not approve the budget, but he wants them to settle on a number so county workers can start preparing tax bills.
At the end of the workshop, Leitz went into an executive session to talk with legislators about raises for the county's non-union employees. Those employees have been skipped over for raises several times in recent years. So far, a lump sum has been included in the 2013 budget for those raises, though that money has not been distributed to individual budget lines.
Better than Essex County
Legislators noted several times Tuesday that they are in better shape than Essex County, where supervisors are facing a potential 26 percent increase in the tax levy. Essex County still has lower taxes than Franklin County.
"This is wonderful compared to the other counties," said board Chairman Gordon Crossman, D-Malone.
Maroun said leaders in Essex County didn't do anything in the recent past to plan for the future, instead using too much of their fund balance to keep taxes low over the years.
"That's what you get when you have a board of supervisors," said Legislator Guy "Tim" Smith, D-Fort Covington.