Allegany County limits information on 2023 tentative budget

BREAKING: Allegany County, NY, government apparently is reverting back to providing limited information to the public about its tentative multi-million dollar budgets prior to public hearings on the documents.

The Board of Legislators will hold a 7PM Thursday listening session on its $131.75 million tentative operating budget for next year which would provide a 3.07 percent true value tax decrease but result in a tax hike in more than a third of its towns, and use only 10 percent of its $30 million projected surplus at the end of this year despite it likely retaining the second highest property and third highest general sales tax rates in the state.

Although a budget message from County Administrator and Budget Officer Carissa Knapp, filed Friday but dated more than a week before, reports that the tentative budget “will be reviewed by the Ways and Means Committee, as well as the Board of Legislators where it will be subject to further amendment,” no sessions have been scheduled prior to the Thursday hearing which would provide the public with additional information upon which to comment.

Budget analysis changed last year
Last year, after a report by Allegany Hope Community News that the county wasn’t following legal requirements for budget examination by the Board’s Ways and Means Committee, which the county denied, a special meeting was called for such review.

No committee meeting has yet been designated for such purpose, despite the Ways and Means Committee being scheduled to meet in its customary several minutes gathering at 1PM Wednesday, held prior to the regular Board meeting an hour later, to review bills and consider referrals from other committees.

This process normally takes less than a half hour, with up to another half hour before the regular Board meeting being spent in a closed door caucus meeting of the all-Republican Board, presumably to discuss what will be voted upon in the public session.

The Board of Legislators has scheduled a Committee of the Whole meeting of its members at 10AM next Wednesday morning, a week after the public hearing, for a budget review of the document which totals 122 pages. Regular committee meetings are scheduled to start at 1PM.

Knapp indicates budget participation by county leaders
Although Knapp reports in her budget message that “(t)roughout the budget process, the budget officers, with the cooperation of this Board and Department Heads, were able to reduce the requested appropriations (from departments) and increase projected revenues resulting in an overall decrease from the original budget estimate.”

The Ways and Means Committee, however, only has met during a September 27 session to hear an average of under 10-minute presentations from two dozen department heads as to what was included in their proposals which totaled millions of dollars.

Several other Board members attended that session which, although scheduled for most of the day, ended an hour after lunch due to few questions being asked by legislators and most department head appearances being less than the time originally allocated.

Federal funds still unspent
In addition to the some $30 million surplus which the county administrator notes is a “healthy unappropriated General Fund Balance,” the county also has some $8 million in unused federal pandemic-assistance funds available.

Independent auditors, as we reported exclusively last month, noted that the county received nearly $6.6 million in revenues over expenses last year, requiring no use of the $4.3 million which county legislators applied to the budget, and which provided a slight average tax decrease of 24-cents per $1,000 this year, based on true valuation.

Of the 29 towns, however, 14 had county taxes increase this year due to assessment equalization rates, with the highest variance being $2.05 above the $14.59 average.

$32.8 million left over at the end of last year
Financial examiners also reported an unassigned fund balance, or surplus, at the end of last year of nearly $32.8 million, some $3.4 million more than the entire county property tax levy for 2022.

Legislators were told last year that there was some $11 million at least in surplus which wasn’t needed at the time for government operations.

Applying the funds against the annual tax levy would have dropped property taxes by more than a third this year, the sales tax rate by nearly half, or a combination of the two.

Thursday night’s public hearing will in the Board of Legislators chambers at the County Office Building, 7 Court Street, Belmont.

A copy of the 2023 tentative budget is available at https://bit.ly/3gSvKII.
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