The Tioga County Legislature recently finished drafting its tentative 2021 county budget and held public hearing regarding the financials for the upcoming year on Nov. 10.
Developing a budget during the COVID-19 crisis was a challenge, to say the least, Martha Sauerbrey, Tioga County Legislator Chair, said Nov. 16.
“It’s really hard to estimate, but we’re projecting a three to five-year recovery for us because we really don’t know if the federal government is going to help the state,” Sauerbrey said. “New York State is still in a pretty bad financial state, which will trickle down to us.”
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic several budgetary challenges became apparent, including major revenue losses in sales tax, occupancy tax, gaming revenues, and the looming threat of New York State aid cuts, Jackson Bailey, Tioga County budget officer, said during his presentation of the budget on Nov. 10.
Therefore, there has been a 10-percent reduction of all non-salary or mandated service expenditures from the 2020 budget.
The county has also implemented training and travel restrictions, a review of capital expenditures and a temporary hiring freeze.
Taking potential loss of revenue into account, the county reduced the budget by an additional 10 percent in the areas of non-salary or mandated service expenditures.
These efforts were crucial to ensure a balanced budget for 2021, Bailey said.
“Nevertheless,” he added, “the impact of COVID-19 will be felt for many years to come.”
A loss of sales tax revenue is currently one of the county’s biggest concerns, Bailey said. It used to be one of the largest revenue sources for the county but saw a reduction in 2020 due to COVID-19. Additionally, sales tax continues to be reduced by Aid and Incentives for Municipalities (AIM) funding that was previously paid to municipalities by the state, Bailey explained.
It was a struggle to balance all of these factors, but Tioga County is used to taking a conservative approach.
“We have been conservative for the last 10 years, to be frank,” Sauerbrey said.
This budget will mark the 10th consecutive year the county has stayed under the state imposed property tax cap.
Bailey said that sales tax will also be impacted by another state mandate starting in 2021; the state has required that at least $150,000 be withheld for distressed hospitals and nursing homes, an order that will continue into 2020.
The total tentative budgeted appropriations for 2021 are $82,866,808.00. In 2020 the total budgeted appropriations were $86,200,968.00, which is a decrease of 3.87 percent. Total tentative anticipated revenues for 2021 are $52,597,340.00. In 2020 the total anticipated revenues were $58,599,043.00, which is a decrease of 10.18 percent.
The $3.3 million decrease in expenditures is brought on by a combination fo salary reductions through attrition, across-the-board departmental costs in anticipation of continue state and and revenue losses, large reductions in capital expenditures for 2021, and the ending of the curbside recycling program.
The decision about recycling has been particularly contentious, and Sauerbrey said that the most of the general public does not understand that the county would have had to pay an additional $1.3 million to continue curbside recycling, which is more than double what the county paid under its old contract.
She pointed out that even if people were willing to pay more in taxes to keep the service, the tax increase would push the budget over the tax cap, putting the county at risk of losing certain grants and benefits, according to Sauerbrey.
It is possible that the legislature could revisit the issue in the future and possibly instate a new recycling district allowing those who use the service to fund the recycling through taxes, but that would take years, she said.
“Right now we’re busy fighting the COVID fight,” Sauerbrey said.
The $5.9 million loss of revenue is due to sales tax losses, interest and fee reductions, gaming reductions, and an anticipated 20-percent state aid loss.
The combined composite tax rate is $8.61 per $1,000 of taxable value, a 1.19-percent increase from 2002. Tax rates will vary from town to town due to the state-established equalization rates and towns’ apportionment percent.
In Candor, the property tax rate is projected to decrease by .5 percent. In Spencer, it is projected to decrease 14.27 percent.
Bailey is recommending that the county use $5.3 million of fund balance and fund balance reserves to offset the deficit gap and balance the 2021 budget.