The proposed Oswego County budget for 2020 includes no tax rate increase for county residents.

Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup, R-Hastings, said in a news release the proposed $218,070,796 budget contains a generic tax rate of $7.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value, which has remained unchanged since 2016.

The proposed budget is up nearly $8.5 million from the 2019 spending plan of $209,540,901.

The proposal is the “culmination of much effort and cooperation between our department heads, administrative team and the legislators who chair the committees overseeing our operations,” Weatherup said.

If the budget is adopted as proposed, this will be the fifth consecutive year that Oswego County’s generic tax rate has stayed the same. It also is the first year in 15 that the budget has been balanced without using savings — commonly called fund balance — to keep the tax rate low.

The budget is due to be voted on by the full Legislature in mid-December. There will be two public hearings on the budget before the Legislature votes.

Here are some items that allowed county officials to maintain a 0 percent tax rate increase without using its fund balance:

n The County Legislature’s decision to switch from a four-year to two-year tax foreclosure process has reduced the need to raise money through taxes to make municipalities and schools whole from unpaid taxes, and has increased revenue from those who are coming forward to pay prior years’ taxes owed

n Lower health insurance costs resulting from a new benefits consulting firm that identified significant drug cost savings

n Improving sales tax revenues; and

n Start of a tax agreement with the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant, which removes the facility from the tax roll and placed its payments into a non-levy revenue line in the budget. The utility is paying an amount comparable to what it would pay on the tax roll.

One of the primary challenges in this budget, officials said, was the new criminal justice reform law passed this year, which would lead to more positions being needed in the district attorney’s office, sheriff’s office and E-911 center.

The draft 2020 budget narrative states the first three factors above (improving sales tax, reduced number of years for foreclosures and lower health insurance costs) “compensated for significant additional costs placed on the county from the state’s unfunded mandates associated with criminal justice reform.”

The budget narrative continues: “Had it not been for the state’s unfunded CJR (criminal justice reform) mandate, Oswego County taxpayers would be experiencing a tax decrease in 2020.”

Other items of note in the proposed 2020 budget are that nearly all department heads are receiving raises, including the elected positions of sheriff, treasurer and county clerk. The raises for sheriff, treasurer and county clerk, though, were agreed to in 2016 through passage of a local law.

The budget includes salary increases for legislators from $13.096 a year to $13,489. The majority and minority leaders of the legislator would see their salaires go from $15,715 to $16,186 while the chairman of the legislature’s salary would go from $28,810 to $29,674.

These are all about 3 percent increases.

The actual 2019 county tax rate paid by property owners varies, depending on their municipality’s total assessed property value, equalization rates and local costs of state-mandated programs such as workers’ compensation and community college chargeback rates.

“We believe this is a good start for what we intend to achieve by working together as we start the next decade,” said County Administrator Philip Church. “It was apparent to me through this process that the Legislature remains committed to the best services we can provide while continuing to be careful stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.”

The Oswego County Legislature’s standing committees will evaluate and consider recommendations to the proposed budget over the next several weeks.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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