As they prepare to outline what services theyll provide and how much in taxes they will levy, county officials are getting challenging but expected news: They will have to pay more to the state for burgeoning retirement costs.
The new calculation a roughly 10 percent increase in pension costs for the fiscal year starting next July means that St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties will each have to send about $1 million more to Albany. Cities, towns and villages also have to contribute to the pension system for public employees.
Its not a total surprise, said Robert F. Hagemann III, the Jefferson County administrator. Its more of a disappointment. We hoped it would be less. It was wishful thinking that it could be something less.
The states pension fund, which pays for retirement benefits for state and local government employees, has two major revenue streams: investments and payments from local governments. After the stock market plunged in 2008, the share of local contributions had to go up.
That can squeeze local government budgets. Mr. Hagemann said he was unsure how the increase in pension costs would affect the 2013-14 county budget, which the administration is just starting to put together.
At this point, its a little early for us to say, Mr. Hagemann said. Were really into our fact-finding stage.
He said that the increase was measurably greater than what the county had hoped for.
Kevin Felt, the St. Lawrence County treasurer, said that the county would have to pay $1.2 million more toward pension costs. Karen M. St. Hilaire, the county administrator, and Sallie A. Brothers, chairwoman of the Board of Legislators, could not immediately be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
In addition to the extra costs, counties are also facing a property tax cap that limits their ability to raise revenue and increasing costs passed down from the state government.
Stephen J. Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, said in a statement that the additional contributions are troubling news for counties in New York.
Faced with a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar fiscal gap and a state-imposed cap on property taxes, county governments across the state will have great difficulty making this payment, Mr. Acquario said. Our counties are already having difficulty putting together balanced budgets for 2013.
Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, who oversees the pension fund, said in a news release Friday that the fund was in sound financial health, and that the year-to-year increases in the amount that local governments pay are tapering off.
New York continues to responsibly manage its pension system, and our funded status remains among the highest in the country, he said. It isnt easy in these difficult economic times, but fulfilling our obligations has meant that New York has not had to play catch-up like other states.