Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort's $116.5 million 2019 budget proposal would boost spending but bring a smaller tax levy increase, thanks to rising revenues.
Ossenfort's plan predicts $3.2 million more in spending, compared with the current year's $113.8 million budget. The 2018 figure was, itself, up $2.5 million from 2017's $111.2 million budget.
The 2019 budget proposal includes a 1.98 percent tax levy increase, boosting the $28.6 million local property tax revenue by $567,405. That's less than the 2.2 percent tax levy increase the county passed last year, and less than the 2 percent New York state property tax cap.
The budget projects using $3.7 million of the county's fund balance -- its reserve of unspent tax revenue. That is down from the $3.82 million in fund balance spending called for in the current year.
County Legislature Budget and Finance Chairman Michael Pepe, legislator for District 7, said he was pleased with the executive budget proposal. He said the county's 30 departments are projecting a $447,000 year-over-year spending increase, down from the $606,000 increase in the current year.
"Both of those figures are minuscule compared to the rest of the budget; that's less than half of 1 percent for departmental increases. That's four-tenths of 1 percent," Pepe said. "I think the executive did a good job working with the department heads to make sure there was no fluff in there."
Pepe said the county is unlikely to use all of the $3.7 million in fund balance spending called for in 2019.
"History has taught us we're using maybe $1.5 million to $1.7 million in fund balance spending that we've been putting into the budget," he said.
Pepe said a substantial portion of the overall year-over-year spending increase is offset by other revenues, such as increased funding from state and federal programs administered by the county. He said sales tax growth has also exceeded expectations.
"This year, we've budgeted $28.5 million in sales tax, but we're on pace right now to exceed $30 million, so the reality is that's not going to continue forever, but that happened the year before as well, and that's a sign of a good economy and that people are spending money," he said.
The 2019 Executive Budget includes a $50,000 increase to the Montgomery County Office for the Aging budget line.
In a news release about the proposed budget, Ossenfort said the increase is an effort to assist the county’s growing senior population through two strategic initiatives:
• Reducing the wait list for the expanded In-home services For the Elderly Program, which provides support to seniors so they can stay in their homes and avoid expensive nursing home costs. There are currently 15 seniors on the wait list.
• Funds would also be allocated toward volunteer-driven transportation system for senior citizens in Montgomery County, modeled after a similar program in Dutchess County. The funds would purchase necessary computer software and offset additional staffing needs.
"Seniors make up a growing number of our population, and their ability to join a program such as this shouldn’t be hindered due to a wait list,” Ossenfort said. “Pursuing a volunteer-driven transportation system would alleviate undue stress on seniors who may be struggling to find rides to appointments, grocery shop or visit family members.”
One unknown cost increase could be the settling of the county's CSEA union contract.
Pepe said the 2019 budget proposal has $285,000 built in to pay for expenses from raises and retroactive raises, if the county settles the contract in 2019.
The Legislature's finance committee is set to meet with the heads of the county DPW, social services, sheriff’s office and jail at its Sept. 24 meeting to discuss any possible budget request changes for 2019.
Pepe said he also anticipates the county will budget $15,000 for its Fonda Fair youth days program, avoiding an issue that has occurred in the past when the county waited to pay for that program out of its fund balance during the year instead of budgeting for it ahead of time.