Preston Holds The Line on Taxes; Delivers 0% Increase In Property Tax Levy For 2013

(Binghamton, NY) – Broome County Executive Debbie Preston today presented her 2013 Budget Proposal to the County Legislature. The Budget, Preston’s first since taking office on January 1, 2012, delivers a 0% increase in the property tax levy for 2013.
“The people of Broome County can’t afford to pay a penny more in taxes. So we established a responsible fiscal plan that brings about real change, identifies and corrects inefficiencies, ensures recurring savings, and pays attention to the details,” said Preston. “Today, I’m proud to tell you that the increase for property taxpayers for 2013 will be zero percent.”
Preston’s Budget sets total appropriations for 2013 at $365.8 million. Total mandated costs are $235.5 million while non-mandated costs are $129.6 million. Among the mandated costs are skyrocketing retirement costs that grew by $2.1 million, boosting total retirement contributions to $20 million for 2013.
Preston’s Budget projects total revenues at $292.9 million. Included in that figure, she anticipates a conservative growth in Sales Tax of 1.5% over an adjusted 2012 budget, for a total of $79.1 million.
The local tax levy is budgeted at $67.9 million, which results in the 0% increase in the property levy.
Additionally, full-time employees will be cut to 1,546 in 2013 compared to 1,579 in 2012.
Preston spent a significant portion of her Budget Address focused on recurring savings.
“The key to addressing the challenges of a growing cost structure is increasing revenues and decreasing expenses – on a recurring basis,” Preston said. “No more one-shot fiscal gimmicks; we need lasting changes that save real money every year.”
She mentioned several initiatives announced earlier this year that create recurring savings, including:
 Cutting her own and 63 other top managers’ salaries and benefits by 5%, which delivered a recurring annual savings of $364,000;
 Cutting back the County’s Vehicle Policy to take away some managers’ Take-Home vehicles and selling 10% of the Vehicle Fleet, which delivered a recurring saving of $80,000 every year over five years; and
 Cutting down on leases through space consolidation, which delivered a recurring annual savings of $100,000.
Several additional recurring savings initiatives are being implemented by Preston and her team in the 2013 Budget, including:
 Moving management of the Purchasing Department into the Office of Management and Budget;
 Merging the operating aspects of the Parks Department and Youth Bureau;
 Implementing a Retirement Incentive for County employees, and not refilling certain of those positions, which will deliver a recurring annual savings of $700,000;
 Reducing staff and improving scheduling in the Security Division, which will deliver a recurring annual savings of $371,000;
 Reinstituting the “Work First” approach to safety net applicants in the Department of Social Services, which will deliver a recurring annual savings of $640,000; and
 Combining Probation efforts in the JD Group with the PINS Group, resulting in the defunding of four positions, which will deliver a recurring annual savings of $281,000.
Another major focus of Preston’s speech was reducing the County’s debt burden and focusing on better capital planning.
“For too long the County has been living beyond its means. This Budget takes a major step in addressing the County’s dependency on borrowing,” said Preston. “Reducing the Tax Anticipation Note dollar amount and duration will save taxpayers $275,000. We’ll save another $750,000 every year by refinancing some old debt, just like I did in Conklin.”
Preston’s budget also strengthens the County’s fund balance to 11.8% of the 2013 property tax levy. She set a goal of boosting reserves to between 15% and 20% of the levy in the future so the County will be better prepared for possible economic downturns or emergencies.
The Executive’s 2013 Budget also proposes a minor reduction to Contract Agencies – local non-profits that receive funding from the County to help support their operations. This funding has traditionally come from the Occupancy Tax on hotel and motel rooms charged to out-of-towners visiting Broome County.
“No one likes to reduce funding to important community organizations like some of these Contract Agencies,” said Deputy County Executive Bijoy Datta. “But, in recent years, Hotel/Motel funds have been overspent, meaning that local property taxpayers were footing the bill. This budget fairly decreases funding to all Contract Agencies by 4.4% to bring the County’s investment back in line with actual revenue.”
Additionally, the Executive Budget proposes changes to the distribution of Sales Tax revenue between the County and municipalities. The issue has been contentious after the County changed the formula several years ago from 50-50 to a sliding scale that favored the County but hurt municipalities.
“Debbie and I are both former Town Supervisors so we’re committed to returning to a fair distribution of Sales Tax revenue,” said Deputy County Executive John Bernardo, who previously served as Town of Union Supervisor. “This Budget delivers some money back to our Towns and Villages, and we’ll keep that momentum going in years ahead.”
Following two public hearings held this summer on a proposed increase in bus fares, the 2013 Executive Budget reflects a 50-cent rate increase that is necessary to ensure Broome County Transit’s future. The Transit Budget also includes a modified pass structure to help those that frequent the bus system and restores some of service cuts that were made last year by the previous County Executive.
Preston additionally discussed important public/private partnerships she’s working on to improve Broome County’s economic outlook, including the new Job Creation Incubator project in partnership with Binghamton University and the Broome County Industrial Development Agency, and Mirabito Energy Group’s new sponsorship of the STOP-DWI Holiday Classic Basketball Tournament.
The Budget now goes to the County Legislature for consideration.
09/17/2012 - 5:27pm