The Tompkins County Legislature met in a second retreat session to consider budget preparation information from County Administrator Lisa Holmes. Ultimately, following a straw poll a majority of Legislators agreed to ask County Administration to begin drafting a 2024 budget with a 2% tax levy increase. Updates on progress will continue at the Legislature’s Budget, Capital, and Personnel Committee leading up to the Committee of the Whole Legislature (Expanded Budget Committee) meetings later this summer.
In the first such conversation held on April 25, Administrator Holmes projected that a maintenance of effort budget would increase the tax levy 5.53%, (around $2.9 million), a $99 increase on County property taxes for the median homeowner with an assessed property value of $249,000.
In her May 30 presentation, Holmes detailed changes over the past month, with the budget outlook improving overall since the worst-case scenarios reflected in the initial conversation. Since the passage of the 2024 New York State Budget more information has become available on the phasing-in of eFMAP fund intercepts and commitments from the State to cover partial costs for the Assigned Counsel rate increases, totaling a $733,000 net positive in the new local calculations. Holmes also reported that a $2.7 million reimbursement for 2021 social services costs has been received in 2023, which is a slight boon to revenues though there are several options on how to leverage the revenue, including a designated fund balance for mandate costs outside of expected calendar years.
Anticipated cost increases include electricity and natural gas rate increases of nearly $400,000 and a 2% cost of living adjustment increase for sponsored not-for-profit agencies. Holmes also reported that sales tax receipts are down in April and May 2023, following a record year in 2022 – Holmes is recommending a conservative sales tax budget for 2024.
Additional considerations include ongoing initiatives budgeted under the County’s one-time multi-year program totaling $3.4 million, of which $1.3 million supports County staffing. A portion of the $3.4 million expires at the end of 2024, with the rest at the end of 2025 - unless the Legislature prioritizes any of those initiatives for ongoing target funding.
An expected 2024 budget request for an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) rapid medical response team through the Department of Emergency Response was discussed as totaling up to $1 million. Following a presentation on the topic at a recent Public Safety Committee meeting Legislators are considering how to prioritize and potentially implement the program.
Holmes presented several decision points for the Legislature including whether a 2% levy increase would be amenable for the starting point, which would result in a $53 County property tax increase for the median Tompkins County homeowner. Organizational cuts to achieve 2% could include adjusting the ongoing anticipated County position vacancy rate, a temporary hiring freeze of unhired positions, and savings on some Capital projects funded through the tax levy. County departments would be asked to submit maintenance of effort budgets with any additional staffing only requested through over target requests, and the Legislature would determine which currently unhired positions would be restored and which multi-year one-time projects would be prioritized.