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November 6, 2009

Proposed Oswego County Budget Carries Zero Tax Increase

Oswego County property owners will see no increase in the tax rate if the 2010 county budget is approved as proposed. The $185,422,628 budget presented to the Legislature's Finance and Personnel Committee by County Administrator Phil Church keeps the generic tax rate at $7.18 for every $1,000 of assessed value. Tax rates may vary slightly in each municipality, depending on equalization rates and other local factors.

“Between the work of the County Administrator, the department heads, and the Finance and Personnel Committee, we were able to hold the line and present a budget with a zero tax increase,” said committee chairman Arthur Ospelt, District 12, Pennellville. “A lot of people share the credit for developing the budget. Phil Church did a good job of putting the budget together and the department heads worked well with him. Our committee all year long has watched the budget very carefully, and by working together we were able to avoid an increase in county property taxes.”

Legislature Chairman Barry Leemann, District 4, Amboy, said that if the budget is approved as presented, this will be the sixth year that Oswego County has not raised the tax rate. The county tax rate has declined three times since 2004, when it stood at $9.20 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“I'm happy that we were able to have the budget remain stable compared to previous years,” said Chairman Leemann. “This took a concerted effort by all legislators, department heads, and county employees, who understand that property taxpayers cannot continue to see tax increases. Most of the problems that we have encountered at the county level are due to New York State's unfunded mandates and shifting of costs to local governments. We looked at everything in the budget in order to provide a zero percent increase. In upcoming years we will continue to work hard to be a fiscally conservative county government.”

The budget requests of all department heads were cut in several areas, including overtime, travel, fuel, postage, telephones and contracted services. No unfunded non-mandated new positions were allowed.

“Oswego County's relatively good financial health is allowing it cope with the current recession and state budget crisis,” said County Administrator Phil Church. “Our financial stability is due to several factors -- long-range budget planning, controlled spending, the Legislature's conservative policy of managing the use of declining unappropriated fund balance, maintaining reserve funds, and realistic forecasting of revenues - most notable the 2009 sales tax.”

$4.8 million of the unappropriated fund balance was applied to the 2010 budget and used to reduce the tax rate.

County leaders noted that there are several external factors that are impacting Oswego County and local governments in New York State:

  • Counties are required to cover fund losses in the state retirement system that resulted from the economic crash. Oswego County is forced to pay an additional $1.9 million in 2010.

  • Lower interest rates result in a loss of $800,000 in interest earnings revenue.

  • Nine new positions are mandated at the County Jail, and the state is ending reimbursement to counties that house prisoners from other counties in their jails.

In addition to Legislator Ospelt, members of the Finance and Personnel Committee include committee vice chairman Shawn Doyle, District 3, Pulaski; Fred Beardsley, District 9, Central Square; Dan Chalifoux, District 19, Oswego; Paul Santore, District 16, Oswego; and John Proud, District 7, Mexico.

The County Legislature's standing committees will review the proposed budget over the next several weeks. Under state law, the Legislature must approve a budget by Dec. 20. The Legislature's Finance and Personnel Committee set the public hearing on the county budget for 7 p.m. Dec. 15.

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