The Tompkins County Legislature approved the 2021 budget on Nov. 18. The tax lavy will increase by approximately 2.21%, and the average tax rate will be $6.21 per thousand of taxable evaluation, a decrease of 1.6%. The median price home is $200,000, meaning the average person will see an increase in taxes of $42.87.
The budget totals $182,611,872, which is down 5.64%, or $10,915,637, from last year.
The vote came after weeks of discussions about amendments and over-target requests. One such request that was approved was about $60,000 for the county outreach workers program which is supported and operated by Family & Children's Service of Ithaca. Legislators also approved an amendment to restore target funding for staff hours at the Department of Planning and Sustainability, totaling $50,833.
To account for the expected budget shortfalls due to the ongoing pandemic, the legislature voted to use $1,404,856 from the fund balance in concurrence with a 2.21% tax levy increase to get to the decreased tax rate for the seventh consecutive year.
The budget also includes up to $59,000 for a broadband study to identify gaps in Tompkins County where people are underserved or unserved by broadband internet; that information will be provided to the nonprofit Southern Tier Network, which is working on a region-wide plan.
This budget season proved to be one of the tougher ones, as there is still so much uncertainty ahead.
“Generally you can identify the problem and put together a solution based on the environment around you,” County Administrator Jason Molino said. “We know the problem, but we have no ability to make a solution because the variables keep changing. What happens if the economy doesn’t recover? What happens if the disease gets worse?”
Molino added that the biggest economic factor this year for the county was the decrease in sales tax when businesses were forced to shut down in March.
“The shortfall in sales tax is millions of dollars,” he said. “It’s significantly less than usual.”
Additionally, municipalities around the state are prepared for a severe decrease in state funds, as well as an increase in mandated costs, particularly for social services such as Code Blue, which requires the county to provide shelter for individuals who need it when the temperature drops below 32 degrees.
“Those costs are reimbursed at 100% by the state, but they could say no, you only get 80%,” Molino said. “But we still have to provide that service.”