Allegany County lawmakers have adopted a $145.5 million tentative budget with no changes, although it increased expenditures by more than $1.5 million before it was adopted and then repeated the actions once again afterward.
A resolution declaring that “the 2024 County Tentative Budget dated November 1, 2023, is adopted as
the 2024 County Final Budget” was approved Wednesday afternoon by the Board of Legislators partway through a list of two dozen measures.
The action, however, came only after a resolution to appropriate $200,000 to modify the document was moved up on the agenda to change the budget to undertake a county-wide sewer study.
The county has been awarded $100,000 by the state for the study and will provide a required match of the same amount from its pool of federal pandemic American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
By that time, the Board already had approved two other resolutions to add over $1.3 million to 2024 expenditures, with $609,273 being for a Public Health Infrastructure grant and $703,146 for a Lead Hazard Reduction Capacity grant.
When the errors were discovered at the end of the meeting, apparently by County Administrator Carissa Knapp, who also serves as the budget officer, the board then adopted the resolutions all over again, in effect already amending the 2024 spending plan before it goes into effect.
The tentative budget, as adopted, drew a “no” vote from Legislator James Rumfelt of Andover, with Adam Cyr of Bolivar and Philip Curran of Alfred Station being absent.
Rumfelt tells Allegany Hope Community News that he voted against the budget due to funding being included for a more than 40 percent salary increase next year for legislators, from $8,500 to $12,000 annually, with double that for Chairman W. Brooke Harris.
He earlier had voted against a public hearing notice on the budget last month which suddenly appeared with the increases listed.
The legislator said he doesn’t feel the salaries should be raised in mid-term.
Rumfelt also was the only one to vote against a separate $5,598 contract for Department of Health tobacco cessation billboards.
The lawmaker, who also serves as Andover police chief, told Allegany Hope Community News that in addition to billboards being distracting to drivers, he feels the money could be spent in better ways to reach smokers.
Only one Board comment
Board Chairman Harris was the only one to comment publicly on the 2024 spending plan, saying “it’s a good budget, we should be proud to vote in favor of it.
“It equally represents the needs of the county with the concerns of our taxpayers,” he said, “and I’m thankful for the opportunity to vote in favor of this budget.”
There was no discussion in regard to the tax rate, which will decline just over 91-cents per thousand of true valuation, although property taxes will increase in over one-third of the towns and only reach that amount of decrease in four towns due to varying equalization rates.
Taxes will go down more than the stated county rate in the Towns of Cuba, Friendship,, Grove and Hume, and will increase in Almond, Angelica, Belfast, Bolivar, Caneadea, Genesee, New Hudson, Rushford, Scio, Willing and Wirt. The remainder will see decreases less than the county’s true value decline.
Several legislators had been quick last month, when the tentative budget first was presented, to blame towns for their assessment practices.
County retains excess
They declined to provide more of of the county’s unappropriated fund balance, known as surplus, to overcome that issue, despite holding more than one-and-a-half times the entire $30.3 million county property tax levy in excess funds at the end of last year.
Lawmakers also didn’t reveal what they are going to do with $16 million which is identified in the budget document as “estimated encumbrances tentative” from October 30 through the end of this year.
The board isn’t scheduled to meet as a whole again in December and no plan has been presented as to where and for what purpose it intends to divert such funds or whether they just will be retained in surplus, collecting interest.
General fund interest has been budgeted at $1.1 million for next year, although more than $1.25 million already is listed as having been received at some point in 2023, presumably through September 30.
Despite the real property tax decrease, it appears the county will retain its second highest property and third highest general sales tax rate positions in the state.