After extensive debate last night (November 21), the Cortland County Legislature voted to officially adopt the 2020 budget.
Residents and members of several organizations were in attendance for the vote, some even speaking beforehand to make their last-minute attempts at preserving or restoring their respective funding.
Ultimately, any final amendments proposed were rejected, and the budget was adopted as it stood before the meeting.
The approved spending plan uses just under $2M from the county’s General Reserve Fund to bring the estimated tax levy increase below the state’s cap of 3.25%.
Exact rates will vary by municipality, but on average, a median-valued $80K home will see an estimated $26 property tax increase, with about a $33 increase on a $100K home and a $65 increase on a $200K home.
Budget and Finance Chair George Wagner said it was the best result possible given the way this year began.
“We started this year with a $1.7M deficit and had to come up with $1.9M for the jail [repairs],” said Wagner. “We had to come up with another $600K for boarding out prisoners, we got cheated by the state of New York for $1.2M and we’re still ending up with only $1.8 coming out of it [General Fund], so we’ve done pretty well this year.”
The shortcomings Wagner referred to included the rolling year-to-year deficit, along with necessary repairs to the county jail that forced the temporary evacuation and boarding out of inmates to other facilities.
Additionally, changes to mandates and state assistance calculations shorted the county another million in expected capital.
Chairman Kevin Whitney, who chose not to run again for his seat next year, said the difficulties with maintaining a balanced budget are more complicated than these figures.
“It’s tough getting all 17 of us [legislators] together on the same page every single day moving the county forward,” Whitney said. “I am hopeful that begins to happen come January 2nd — I really am, because I’m a taxpayer like the rest of you. It’s a very difficult task to take on.”
While a budget was passed that comes in under the state tax cap, legislators still voted to authorize a potential override in case of any unexpected changes such as the state’s calculation of municipal assistance.
The adopted budget will take effect at the start of the new year, but can still be altered at any time through resolutions passed by the full Legislature.
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