News Details - Legislature Adopts 2011 County Budget
The Tompkins County Legislature tonight adopted the County’s 2011 budget and the County’s capital program for the next five years, concluding two-and-a-half months of budget deliberations. The adopted budget is identical to the amended tentative budget approved by legislators earlier this month. It increases the County tax levy by 5.98% and the countywide average tax rate by 7.9% to $6.47 per thousand. The budget passed by a vote of 11-4, with Legislators Kathy Luz Herrera, Mike Lane, Pam Mackesey, and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne voting no.
Budget chair Jim Dennis noted that the budget adds roughly $350,000—or nearly 1% on the levy—to the tentative budget prepared by County Administrator Joe Mareane to meet the Legislature’s 5% tax levy goal, to support what he described as some of the most critical programs in the county to benefit the people who need them the most. Reflecting on the budget and the difficult process of developing it during more than an hour of discussion preceding the adoption vote, even many legislators who ended up approving the budget said they are not happy about it—that while its reductions pose challenges for departments working to deliver services, it will be difficult for property owners and taxpayers, especially considering the compound effect of the County’s tax increase with those of other taxing jurisdictions. Legislators Dooley Kiefer and Pat Pryor both maintained the budget fails to include sufficient funding to maintain roads and infrastructure, and several expressed concern that the County’s budget challenges will likely become even greater next year. Since a 12% tax levy increase would have been required to maintain current programs, Legislator Brian Robison remarked the tax levy could be seen either as a near 6% increase or as a 6% decrease from what has been done before.
Legislator Mike Lane said he believes the Legislature has not done its very best—that he did not support a goal as high as 5%, that people are struggling and the County needs to go back to basics. Lane proposed the only budget amendment, which failed by a vote of 2-13 (he and Legislator Mackesey voting in favor), which would have reallocated $200,000 in departmental rollover to the fund balance to reduce the tax levy.
Legislators Pryor and Peter Stein, both completing their first year of the county budget process, expressed concern over what they see as ambiguity in the final steps of the budget process and were among those who said the Legislature should have been more committed to the 5% levy goal. Legislator Luz Herrera suggested that, while administration and departments did their part in meeting the goal, legislators did not.
Both Legislator Pam Mackesey and Legislature Chair Martha Robertson said the time has come to band together and push back against unfunded state mandates that have the greatest effect on the budget and tax levy. “This government has been responsible; these are the toughest decisions we have ever had to make,” Chair Robertson said, and she called passage of the budget “a relief, but not really something to celebrate.”
Comparison of 2010 and 2011 adopted Tompkins County budgets:
Local Share (spending on local programs; revenue raised from the local community, primarily through property and sales tax):
2011: $74,961,766 (Percent change: 1.35)
Property Tax Levy (total amount to be collected from owners of taxable property):
2011: $40,600,519 (Percent change: +5.98)
Property Tax Rate (countywide average amount per $1,000 of assessed property value):
2011: $6.47 (Percent change: +7.90)
Tax change on a $160,000 home ; $75.30