A new $70 million county jail-in-progress has certainly added to Genesee County’s list of expenses for 2023 and beyond, however, there are other reasons for a proposed 2 percent tax levy increase, County Manager Matt Landers says.
An “all funds” budget of $162,567,180 is an increase of nearly $3.6 million from the current budget, with an operating budget of $124,247,459 — at a hike of $4.88 million more than the current 2022 budget, Landers said.
New jail debt service — a nearly $4 million yearly tab for the next 30 years — includes the construction, labor and materials of the new facility on Route 5 in the Town of Batavia, and eight new hires needed at the future site.
The Batavian asked Landers about prior statements made by county management about how the new jail would not impact taxpayers.
The proposed 2 percent tax levy increase includes other rising costs, Landers said.
“The debt service for the new jail was not expected to cause an increase in county property taxes, which it isn’t,” he said. “The percent levy increase in the budget is due to a number of factors, including NYS retirement cost increases, wage increases, inflationary increases on a variety of commodities utilized by the County Highway Department and some operational increases at the jail due to hiring new positions.”
Those positions include six correctional officers and a new deputy jail superintendent, two new positions at the Sheriff’s Office aimed at “improvements in public safety,” and a new public health education coordinator position (funded with increased state funding).
What is your calculation for those new positions for the jail, including salary and benefits?
Landers provided numbers for the 2023 budget year, which totals $286,047. However, that covers three correction officers effective July 1, and the other three officers and a deputy jail superintendent to begin on Oct. 1, which means salary and benefits for three to six months of 2023.
A public hearing has been set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the legislative chambers at the Old Courthouse between Main and Ellicott streets, Batavia. Typical of such hearings, this will include a presentation of the budget, Landers said, “but we will welcome feedback from the public.”
“Feedback provided by the public will absolutely be taken into consideration before the Legislature adopts the final budget later this month,” he said.
A tax levy increase of 2 percent and the assessment increases for most properties will mean a decrease in the actual property tax — from $9.18 to $8.44 per $1,000 assessed value. If your property has increased, that may not translate to an overall property tax decrease. For example, a $100,000 home at $9.18 = $918, whereas a home now assessed at $120,000 at $8.44 = $1,012.80.
The county was not directly responsible for raised assessments, as each municipality conducted its own assessment process, and Landers points to the fact that county taxes will go down. But it’s worth noting the increased assessments for many folks, and how that will affect your future county tax bill.
The Batavian asked if this is likely the trend moving forward — increased tax levies to pay off the long-term debt for the jail. While he can’t say for sure about future budgets, Landers is aware of the county’s ties to “a lot of state mandates of which we have little control.”
“And when there are changes made by the state, we must react accordingly,” he said. “The 2021 budget kept the levy flat and the 2022 budget is increasing the levy 2 percent. The County faces inflationary cost pressures like every other organization, and when inflation is running above 8 percent, it is a challenge to keep our expenses flat.
“The County hopes to generate revenue starting in the 2024 budget from boarding in inmates, which will help offset operational costs at the County Jail.”
During a recent county Legislature meeting, supervisors from Pembroke and Bergen appealed to legislators that their municipalities could use more revenue — something they felt has decreased due to a 40-year sales tax-sharing agreement between the county and city.
Why should they accept the fact that they are seeing less revenue now as the county receives more? Genesee County is sharing $10 million with towns and villages every year for the remaining term of that agreement, Landers said.
“The County has a number of countywide challenges that will need this increase as we move forward on developing solutions,” he said. “In addition to funding a $70 million dollar jail, the county is working towards a countywide broadband solution to ensure every home is connected; the county is working towards Phase 3 of the countywide water system, which carries a $150 million price tag; and we are actively working to help implement some of the solutions identified in the (Municipal Resources Inc.) study.
“With that said, the county absolutely hears the voices of our town and village leaders, and I am hopeful that we can find creative ways to have meaningful positive impacts on their municipal budgets.”
A positive step, he said, was being able to eliminate election chargebacks and reduce workers comp costs by 60 percent in the 2023 budget.
Other budget challenges include increases of more than $700,000 for state retirement costs; state mandates to fund Medicaid, Probation, the new jail, the Public Defender’s Office, assigned counsel, Social Services programs, Mental Health, Early Intervention and preschool services, he said.
With everything proposed, is it all in dire need? Is there anything the county can delay for now?
Landers emphasized that “we DO NOT incur an expense before we need to.”
In fact, county infrastructure has been neglected over the years, he said, and “we have deferred maintenance to the point we end up paying more in the long run.”
“The perfect example is the front of the old Sheriff Administration building. We had an estimate to repair the front of the building, where large stones were literally falling off the façade, five years ago for approximately $500,000,” Landers said. “We deferred this maintenance and are now making these needed repairs for over $1 million.”
This 2023 budget includes an ongoing commitment for increased funding by $1 million for roads and bridges, Landers said in his budget message. Deferred maintenance of these structures has gotten to a critical point, “and the cracks are showing,” evident by recent bridge closures, he said.
The proposed budget includes $2 million of unappropriated — not designated — fund balance, and in addition to the new jail, an ongoing water project is clearly on the county’s priority list.
“The county is embarking on two of the largest capital infrastructure projects in its history,” he said of the $70 million jail and $150 million water system project. “These two projects are going to weigh heavily on decisions made by the Manager’s Office and County Legislature for the foreseeable future, and is evident in the 2023 recommended county budget.”
After Wednesday’s hearing, the budget will go to the Legislature for consideration and eventual vote this month. Landers is pleased that the financial plan is under the allowable tax cap, he is also aware of its ramifications.
“I am not blind to the significant impact the proposed tax levy has on the citizens and businesses of Genesee County,” he said. “My time as county manager has only just begun, and I pledge to work with local governments, community not-for-profits, the business county and local citizens on ways to spend these precious resources as efficiently as possible.”
Click to read the entire Budget Message