2024 county budget proposal shows taxes up for many as $16 million diverted for unnamed purposes

EXCLUSIVE: Over one-third of taxpayers in Allegany County towns will pay more in county property taxes next year under a 2024 tentative budget while $16 million, or a number equal to nearly 53 percent of the entire tax levy, appears to be proposed for diversion to one or more unnamed purposes.

An initial analysis of the proposal, provided to the Board of Legislators Budget Committee last Wednesday and made available to the public at the end of the week shows the tentative equalized tax rate for the county would drop 6.59 percent, or 91.6 cents per $1,000 of true valuation.

However, county-based taxes in 11 of the 29 towns in the county would increase by as much as 6.49 percent due to reductions in town equalization rates, something that some county legislators were quick to point out is due to town assessment practices.

In the meantime, the proposed budget confirms a story which Allegany Hope Community News first reported back in May that the county ended up last year with a $48,798,240 surplus, or nearly two-thirds more than required for its entire $29,731,987 tax bill to all property owners this year.

The county levied the entire tax bill while also having an estimated Unreserved Fund Balance (surplus) of $30,344,480 at the end of 2022.

$16 million to unnamed purposes
According to the new proposed budget, $16 million of the more than $19 million excess would be allocated to unnamed “Estimated Encumbrances Tentative” purposes between last Monday and the end of the year.

The $3 million difference apparently is being added to a similar amount appropriated last year, to apply toward the 2024 budget, creating the true value tax reduction.

Using the full $19 million would result in a one-year property tax reduction next year of nearly 60 percent, versus the 6.49 percent which is being proposed.

Allegany Hope Community News queried County Administrator and Budget Officer Carissa Knapp last evening in regard to the use of the $16 million apparently being proposed for undiscerned purposes, a subject which wasn’t discussed at last week’s Budget Committee, but hasn’t received a response as of this writing.

No budget message was provided Friday with the tentative budget.

Audit report for 2022 shows skyrocketing surplus

Allegany to continue as high-taxed
An initial review of other top taxing counties in the state indicates that even with the proposed true value tax decrease next year, Allegany County still will retain its distinction of having the second highest county property tax and third highest general sales tax rates in the state.

Based on property tax numbers proposed, only five Allegany County towns actually will achieve as high a property tax reduction as the 6.59% county equalized rate.

Top reductions of 34.55 percent in Friendship, 32.82 percent in Cuba and 21.9 percent in Hume result from an increase in equalization rates due to re-assessments which can result in a tax rate decrease being negated for many property taxpayers.

The Town of Grove also shows a 9.03 percent decrease based on maintaining its 100 percent equalization rate from last year and Wellsville at 7.78 percent due to a drop of only one percent, from 73 to 72.

Another 13 towns show a decrease, but less than the overall county percentage, including Amity, which dropped from 100 percent equalization to 93, Burns which decreased from 100 to 94, and Granger from 100 to 95.

In 11 towns, tax rates will increase, from .29 percent in Genesee to 6.49 percent in Willing.

This is one more town than last year when, although the county rate decreased 4516-cents per $1,000 of true value, or 3.5 percent, 10 towns saw increases.

Our chart showing the changes in equalization and tax rates for this year and propossed for next year accompanies this story.

Budget preparation a “juggling act”
County Treasurer and Assistant Budget Officer Terri Ross told committee members last week that the proposed budget has been “a juggling act” in order to come in under the two percent state property tax increase cap requirement.

She said the total property tax levy is “up significantly,” with documents showing an increase from $29.7 million to $30.3 million, which is being offset by a $3.5 million estimated jump in sales tax revenues, to $29 million, and the additional $3.3 million being allocated from surplus.

Proposed general fund expenditures are $108,140,241, compared with $98,651,226, a difference of nearly $9.5 million or 9.62 percent.

In regard to the wide variation in resulting town tax rates, Ross said that some towns refuse to reassess but that “in the end not doing revaluations hurt their tax rates.”

She said that revaluations can cost $50,000 t0 $60,000, depending on the town, with the cost in prior years being some $7 per parcel, although she isn’t familiar with current prices.

Use of federal ARPA funds
The treasurer said the county board will need to take into consideration where it wants to take money from next year, saying that some department head budget requests were shifted into possible use of the $9 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) pandemic funds which the county has received, which is in addition to the general county budget.

Legislator Kevin (Fred) Demick of Angelica said he believes the board needs to better understand the current status of such funding, with monies having to be allocated by the end of next year and spent by the end of 2026.

Knapp pointed out that some possibilities on a list wouldn’t likely be completed by the 2026 date and, if approved, would need to be directed toward the general fund.

She gave a proposed timeline for adoption of a new budget, saying it would be received by the Board Wednesday, with a public hearing set for 7PM Thursday, November 30, in keeping with prior year’s dates. The final budget then could be approved at the Board’s December 13 meeting.

A public hearing on the budget originally had been set to be designated last month but the resolution was removed, without comment, from the agenda

The 155-page budget document, which has ballooned from 115 pages last year, is expected to be posted on the county’s website at www.alleganyco.gov.

A video of last week’s Budget Committee meeting is available at https://bit.ly/471aGER.