Fulton County chief outlines budget challenges

Fulton County supervisors have done a good job controlling spending but face numerous budget stress

Fulton County supervisors have done a good job controlling spending but face numerous budget stress factors as they move forward in 2008, Jon Stead, county administrative officer, said in his annual State of the County talk on Friday.

Stead, speaking to a crowd of 92 community and business leaders at a Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry breakfast at the White Holland House in Mayfield, pointed to the past three years’ budget and tax numbers.

The average county tax rate in 2006 was $11.03 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, the tax levy was about $23 million and the budget total was about $91 million.

Last year the rate dropped to $9.80 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, the levy to about $21 million, with a $99 million budget and for 2008 the rate is $9.76 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, the levy about $21 million and the budget about $96 million.

“In the ’90s, the tax levy was growing by about a million dollars a year,” Stead said.

“We need to drive it lower. … It’s still too high,” he added.

Stead said about six years ago the county was very close to 100 percent of its constitutional tax limit, but brought that number down to 62 percent by 2007 and 58 percent this year.

He said Fulton County is a “pay-as-you-go county,” and the numbers bear that out. The county was at 3.4 percent of its constitutional debt limit last year; that number has been cut to 1.6 percent for 2008.

Stead also outlined information that was included in property tax bills mailed recently. The idea is to show taxpayers where their money is going.

Approximately 36 percent of the county budget is for county-provided services, while 37 percent is funded mandates and 27 percent is unfunded mandates, meaning the county has no control over 64 percent of its budget.

“Wake up, Albany. It’s about the mandates,” Stead said. “If you want to stimulate the economy, let’s cut property taxes.”

Stead said 59 percent of every tax dollar collected by the county goes to pay Medicaid. That’s $386 of a county tax bill of $654 on a house with a median assessment of $67,000.

Other stress factors: social services mandates; capital projects at the community college; increasing costs for the public defender, the physically handicapped children program and the infirmary; the cost of the new water district; flat sales-tax collections; and proposed cuts in aid to the college.

Stead’s prescription for altering the property tax landscape: eliminate state mandates; expand sales tax revenue to offset property taxes; and realign local governments by consolidating services where possible.

He urged those in attendance to contact their state representatives in an effort to get the message across in Albany.

Categories: Schenectady County

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