ELMIRA — County Executive Christopher Moss previewed his proposed 2020 budget during a press conference at the Holiday Inn in Elmira on Thursday where he announced that for the first time in over a decade the Chemung County property tax rate will increase.
Increasing at a rate of $.07 per $1,000 of the value of a house, Moss ascribed the increase to accelerating medical insurance costs for county employees.
“Health insurance has been a big driving factor in why we need a 1 percent property tax increase. Normally we get a gradual increase, but never anything like the 14 percent increase (in health insurance costs for this year),” Moss said.
The reason for the increase was due to very expensive claims being filed by employees, according to Moss.
“Hopefully next year we see a decrease of the high value claims,” Moss said.
High cost claims or not, Moss said that health insurance costs for the county have steadily been going up for the last few years.
During the press conference, Moss said appropriations for his proposed budget total $201 million, a $5 million increase over the 2019 approved budget. Moss added he has yet to show county legislators his proposed budget and that it will be delivered to the county clerk on Tuesday.
“I see this as a pregame, a kickoff, as county executive I see the budget presentation as one of the cornerstones of what we get to do every year. (Not giving legislators the budget before the presentation) was not a shot at the legislature,” Moss said.
Moss added that he runs the county executive office the way he would want to see it run regardless of what precedents his predecessors established.
“We’re being very conservative with the budget,” Moss said.
Moss added that the increase to appropriations in his proposed budget are due to things outside the county’s control like criminal justice reform set to go into effect January 1. Due to state instituted reform, Moss said the county will have to hire more assistant district attorneys and clerical staff to handle the new requirements for things like evidence discovery.
“We also cannot lay anyone off from the county jail because the number of employees we have is based on the jail capacity, not the actual number of inmates,” Moss said.
During the presentation, Moss said that his budget includes money for the hiring of a new position to figure out what options exist for the Chemung Nursing Facility.
“Challenges for 2020 and beyond, probably the biggest one is the nursing facility. The nursing facility is very expensive … We need to make a decision, not just as a governing body, but as a county and community to see if Chemung County should be in nursing facility business,” Moss said.
Despite being a “touchy subject,” Moss said the issue should still be met head on.
“Reimbursement from the state doesn’t cover the cost of running the facility … So all options are on the table, whether public private or selling the facility, we need to work on this to keep county finances positive,” Moss said.
Moss also touched on the estimated $80 million to $100 million sewer improvement project on the horizon, saying that the state and federal government have run out of patience and want to see improvements start soon.
“It’s not a choice of do we want to … they have let us go for like 10 years — but these citations need to stop,” Moss said.
He added that hopefully the entirety of the project is funded through state and federal grants.
Also included in the proposed budget is $150,000 in funding allocated through a deal with Casella Waste Systems for community development small project funding.
“In the past that money was a slush fund, pork money where the county executive could put that money where they wanted without approval from the legislature. That changes Jan. 1,” Moss said, adding that the legislature will now have total approval over that money.
In terms of sales tax revenue, Moss said that the county, based on third quarter results, is expected to increase by roughly 2 percent while room tax revenue is expected to have a 6-7 percent decrease.
The proposed budget also includes more money being spent on paying down debt than money being borrowed.
“For the first time in over a dozen years, we’re going to pay off more debt than we are going to borrow — it’s not a lot but every little bit counts. I am a firm believer that really we shouldn’t borrow what we can’t pay back and shouldn’t buy what we can’t afford and that is what this whole budget is based upon,” Moss said.
In terms of decreases, local non-profits will see a decrease of roughly five percent while the Department of Public Works will see a slight decrease in staffing.
“Unfortunately there are not a lot of decreases in the budget,” Moss said.