Budget hearing planned tonight in Lewis County

Public comments are sought on the proposed 2022 Lewis County Budget at 5 p.m. Thursday in the second-floor legislative board room in the County Court House, 7660 N. State St., Lowville.

LOWVILLE — Public comment is welcome on the tentative 2022 Lewis County budget during a public hearing scheduled for 5 p.m. tonight .

With a healthy general fund, the budget has been balanced with a 0% property tax increase through a 19.7% increase in the amount of the fund balance used from $1.65 million to $1.98 million.

Even without any tax rate increase, the amount of revenue raised through taxes is expected to increase by 0.6%, from $17.7 to $17.8 million because of an increase in property valuations.

The tax rate will remain at 7.56% in 2022.

“Importantly,” County Manager and Budget Officer Ryan M. Piche said in the introduction to the budget, “the tentative budget proposes zero cuts to services, zero fee increases and, obviously, remains under the state-imposed property tax cap.”

He emphasized that payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOT revenue, generated by renewable energy projects are not used to balance the operational costs in the budget. Instead, they accumulate in the appropriate fund balance accounts.

Although $20 million in debt related to capital projects for the county and an additional $33 million bond for the county Health System’s surgical pavilion project on the main Lowville campus are slated for next year, the total $53 million in debt is not expected to impact the county’s A+ credit rating next year. The county’s “constitutional debt limit” is estimated at $159 million, not including hospital revenue or PILOT income.

The continued growth and conservative estimates of sales tax revenue over the past eight years has led the budget committee to recommend a $1 million jump in next year’s estimate to $12.8 million.

Despite the fear of state funding being pulled earlier this year because of the $16 billion budget deficit, sales tax and stimulus funding helped to heal that budget and there were no funding cuts for the county in 2021, Mr. Piche said.

With the new $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill passed, the county anticipates state funding programs for bridges and highways to expand.

State-mandated programs totalling about $13.26 million this year are partially offset by about $8.03 million in revenue from the state with the remaining $5.23 million paid for with 29% of the tax levy.

The approved tentative budget also includes salary increases agreed upon earlier this month with the Civil Service Employee Association after protracted negotiations.

A 2.75% increase retroactive to January followed by two years with a 2.5% wage increase totalling 7.75% cumulatively for the three-year agreement will impact 150 county employees.

Mr. Piche also said that while the normal maternity department budgetary expectations are not included in the county Health System’s overall budget, the department remains in the operational budget as Health System administrators continue to work to solve the staffing crisis there as soon as possible.

When that happens, the hospital will restore and fund the budget lines.

The tentative budget approved during the county Board of Legislators Nov. 2 board meeting can be found in its entirety on the county website, lewiscounty.org.

The public hearing in the legislative board room on the second floor of the County Court House, 7660 N. State St., will begin at 5 p.m. Masks are required.

The meeting also will be live-streamed on the Lewis County YouTube channel.

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