Lewis County sets public hearing for ’20 budget

LOWVILLE — Lewis County residents are invited to voice their opinions next week about the tentative 2020 budget, which will include no increase in county property taxes next year and remain under the 2 percent tax cap for the sixth year in a row.

The public budget hearing will be held at 5 p.m. Nov. 19 in the Legislative Board Room in the Lewis County Court House, 7660 N. State St.

Although overall spending in the county will be up by 5 percent from $47.6 million to $50 million next year, that increase is offset by a 6 percent increase in revenue from $29.6 million to $31.3 million and a tax levy increase from $16.4 million to $17.04 million,

Again this year, $1.65 million of the fund balance will be used to keep the budget balanced.

The tax rate in the proposed budget remains at 7.49 percent in 2020, translating into a tax bill of $749 on a property valued at $100,000.

In 2015, one of the fiscal goals created for the county was to maintain a general fund balance of $13 million, or 10 percent of the county and Lewis County General Hospital budgets combined but by 2018, the hospital began keeping its own general fund, County Manager Ryan M. Piche said in his budget notes.

Even with that division, both the county and hospital are reporting healthy general funds — $8.8 million for the county and $25 million for the hospital — which are 18 percent and 30 percent of their respective operating budgets.

About 79 percent of the county’s budget will be used to cover state mandates next year.

One of the most dramatic changes in the tentative budget involves a $100,000 increase from 2018’s $79,900 budget to $180,000 in the Economic Development Department and the potential elimination of the department itself.

In line with a discussion in last year’s budgeting meetings, Mr. Piche proposed eliminating the Economic Development Department to instead make a flat contribution to the county Industrial Development Agency.

Both the department and the agency are currently headed by Eric J. Virkler, who was recently elected county treasurer, and will be stepping down from both development roles at the end of the year. Last year, $53,000 of the department’s budget was for Mr. Virkler’s salary.

The county’s financial contributions to the IDA have been in large lump sums of about $500,000 and $600,000 for specific purposes, Mr. Piche said, but that makes the funds off-limits for initiatives the IDA board sees as priorities.

Instead, Mr. Piche has proposed giving the IDA a lump sum of at least $127,000, which is the budget increase combined with the amount formerly targeted specifically for marketing for the county for the development department.

While Mr. Piche recommends closing the Economic Development Department and including the $53,000 formerly for Mr. Virkler’s salary in the lump sum contribution to the IDA, if legislators decide to keep the department open they would have that money for whomever is chosen to replace Mr. Virkler.

“I would like to work our way up to a $200,000 contribution to the IDA for the county’s economic development every year. That’s the goal, and this gets us off to a good start,” Mr. Virkler said, whether or not the contribution is $127,000 or $180,000.

Other county departments, including the Cornell Cooperative Extension and Soil and Water, are also given lump sums for their operations and are not official county departments.

New and changed positions in 2020 will include the assistant district attorney and a crew leader in the Recreation, Forestry, Trails and Parks Department being increased to full time from part time, and a new computer assistant position in the IT department,

There are also four part-time dispatcher, four part-time road patrol and six part-time corrections officer positions budgeted for 20-hour weeks in the Sheriff’s Department.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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