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Lewis tentative budget likely to include 2.6 percent rate hike

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators in a couple of weeks likely will see a tentative 2013 budget with a tax levy increase of about 6 percent and a full-value rate hike of 2.6 percent.

The proposed spending plan will include some job cuts but most would be through attrition, County Manager David H. Pendergast said Tuesday at a budget work session.

Mr. Pendergast plans to present his tentative budget to lawmakers at their Nov. 6 meeting. However, he gave them a bit of a sneak peek at Tuesday’s session, the final one scheduled before the unveiling.

The county manager, via handouts, indicated he is eyeing a levy increase of 6.1 percent — amounting to a $772,794 hike from the 2012 levy of $12.76 million — that represents the maximum increase under the state tax cap. While the state tax cap law allows an increase of only 2 percent annually, the legislation allows municipalities to exclude some debt service and growth in pension costs from their calculations.

However, since preliminary figures show an increase in the county’s taxable value over the past year, the full-value tax rate would rise from $6.99 per $1,000 of assessed value to $7.17 per $1,000. That would amount to an $18 increase for taxes on a home with a $100,000 full assessed value.

General fund spending is proposed to drop by $2.1 million, from $44.1 million to $42 million, while non-property tax revenues would drop by $2.54 million, from $29.96 million to $27.42 million.

However, much of that change reflects the privatization of most mental health services earlier this year and the planned transfer of Hospice and certified home health aide programs to Lewis County General Hospital, County Treasurer Patricia L. O’Brien said after the meeting.

Legislators in early August directed Mr. Pendergast to ask most department heads to cut an additional 10 percent in their respective budgets, but only a few did so.

For discussion purposes, the county manager on Tuesday showed the impact of requiring the other departments to implement either 4 percent or 6 percent cuts.

Assuming a 6.1 percent levy increase, fund balance usage could be cut from $1.4 million in the 2012 budget to $1.06 million with 4 percent cuts and to $941,989 with 6 percent cuts, he said.

However, Mr. Pendergast indicated the 6 percent figure would be very difficult for some departments to handle.

Legislators suggested that budget cuts not be so deep that county operations are hampered.

“We have departments that need to function,” said Legislator Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners. “We need to make sure we don’t cut the legs out from under them.”

Mr. Lucas specifically asked about the sheriff’s budget, and Mr. Pendergast said the department did offer a 4 percent reduction that would remove recreational patrols, among other things.

The county manager suggested that lawmakers wait to see the tentative budget, then schedule work sessions with department heads to determine what changes to the document are warranted.

Legislator William J. Burke, R-West Lowville, said he wouldn’t mind seeing fund balance use stay the same as this year’s to lessen the tax increase, departmental cuts or both.

One bright spot for the county has been sales tax revenues, which have come in well over the $9 million budgeted in the past couple of years. Because of that, Mr. Pendergast said he plans to increase that projected revenue to $9.5 million for 2013.

Legislators tentatively plan to hold a public hearing on the proposed budget Nov. 20 and adopt a final version at their Dec. 4 meeting.

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