Schenectady County Manager Kathleen Rooney proposed a 2014 budget Monday that increases appropriations by 1.2 percent and the tax levy by 0.74 percent.
Read the Budget
A copy of the proposed budget is on the Capital Region Scene blog
Rooney’s plan would spend $298.99 million, roughly 84 percent of which she blamed on unfunded mandates from the state. Her budget calls for $68.79 million to be raised through the tax levy, which is an increase of about $507,000 over this year.
The spending plan allows legislators to avoid the controversial override of the state-mandated tax cap they approved during last year’s budget discussion before ultimately hiking the tax levy by 5.9 percent. Rooney said she crafted this year’s budget with the goal of falling at or below the tax cap.
“The key focus of the budget this year was a drive to attain the property tax cap,” she told legislators during a special meeting Monday evening. “We’re proud to report the property tax levy increase for 2014 as proposed is less than 1 percent.”
The budget relies on 24 positions being cut, all through attrition. Among them are 10 food service and maintenance positions that are expected to be shed when the county opens the new Glendale Home.
Rooney stressed that her approach to budgeting is long-term. Even including the increase approved last year, she said the average tax levy increase between 2009 and 2014 was about 0.9 percent.
“This is not a one-year approach,” she said. “If you look at the property tax increases over a long period of time, it isn’t that we’ve just done it this year. Over the course of time we’ve really worked to stay within that tax cap.”
Rooney also credited cost-cutting measures from the past in helping the county to rein in spending today. She said initiatives that were implemented five or six years ago are reflected in the nominal tax increase she was able to proposed in the 2014 budget.
“It has been a multiyear approach,” she said. “Many of the strategies we initiated in 2007 and 2008 impact what we were able to present today and where our levy increase is today.”
The budget does rely on $5.7 million in reserve fund spending, which is slightly less than in this year’s spending plan. Rooney warned legislators that the county needs to wean itself from reserve fund spending.
“We need to continue to reduce our reliance on the surplus,” she said. “It’s really critical.”
Rooney said sales tax revenue seemed to be on target, but wasn’t as robust as she hoped. She said she’s also seeing an increase in need for services for a large percentage of county residents.
Rooney singled out Medicaid as the single highest cost the county is facing. She estimated the county’s mandated cost would be about $34.5 million next year — nearly twice the amount paid in 2001 and roughly half the total tax levy included in the 2014 budget.
Rooney credited this year’s restructuring of the Schenectady County Public Library System for $480,000 in annual savings. She said the project to build a family literacy center on State Street at no cost to taxpayers will close down two smaller branches, but result in a facility that will better serve the county.
“In fact, it will generate some efficiencies,” she said.
Rooney also cited the new Glendale Home for helping the county cut costs. She said the new home expected to be in operation by the first quarter of 2014 will help drastically reduce energy usage at the existing nursing home, which is inefficient.
Rooney’s budget was well-received by both the Legislature’s Democratic majority and Republican minority leaders. Majority Leader Gary Hughes said the budget was “thoughtful planning” coming to fruition.
Minority Leader James Buhrmaster, the Legislature’s lone Republican, credited Rooney for staying within the tax cap. Yet he still believes the county’s government is too bloated.
“It’s still too big,” he said. “Our county government is still too big.”