HOLDING THE LINE — Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. outlines his proposed $419.6 million 2019 county budget on Oct. 5 in the ceremonial courtroom on the fifth floor of the Oneida County Courthouse in Utica. The plan, for the sixth consecutive year, holds the line on property taxes, and increases spending by nearly 3 percent. (Clinton Record photo by John Clifford)

No tax hike in proposed county budget

Published Oct 10, 2018 at 4:00pm

UTICA — Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente proposed a 2019 county budget with no increase in the property tax but which increases spending nearly 3 percent and counts on growth in sales tax revenue.

Picente’s $419.6 million spending plan would represent an increase in spending over the adopted 2018 budget of 2.89 percent, compared to the national inflation rate of about 2.7 percent over the past 12 months.

The county executive presented his budget at a special meeting of the Oneida County Legislature on Oct. 5. The document now goes the board’s Ways and Means Committee for a series of hearings before adoption later in the fall.

Under Picente’s plan, the category with the largest increase in spending would be general government, at about 10.2 percent, followed by education at 10 percent.

Spending on public safety would grow at about 6.5 percent.

Public works would decline a little less than 1 percent, the only major category on which the county would spend less.

Almost a third of county revenue comes from state and federal aid: 18.5 and 12 percent respectively. About a quarter of revenue comes from the sales tax, which Picente projects will increase about 5.5 percent. The county also gets revenue from gaming at the Turning Stone casino and resort run by the Oneida Nation. It’s the third largest revenue source, at $19 million budgeted from gaming and tax stabilization revenue, Picente said.

As for property tax, Picente plans for no increase from the category, instead budgeting for the same nearly $105 million as in 2018. With growth in the tax base of assessed value -- Picente said it’s grown by $35 million in the year -- a decline in the county tax rate is possible. Property owners could see a tax increase because the assessed valuation of their home or other property could have increased or because of rate increases by other taxing authorities such as cities, towns, villages and school districts and vagaries of the state equalization rate used to account for differences in assessing by localities.

“This budget I present to you today, is over $419 million, and for an unprecedented six years in a row, it carries with it no increase to the tax levy,” Picente told county lawmakers.

“We continue to do more by finding innovative ways to govern in the most fiscally-responsible way possible. Sound planning and growing sales tax and Oneida Nation gaming revenue streams have allowed us to keep property taxes level.”

Picente said he wants to zero-out revenue sharing agreements with four municipalities that have been sharing revenue while three -- Vernon, Verona and Vienna -- now seek to be part.

“The bottom line is the formula offered then is now unworkable. Remember that we held money in abeyance for one year awaiting those three municipalities to come to the table. When they didn’t, those funds were used to hold the line on taxes,” Picente said in prepared remarks. “This was not an easy decision and I realize that there will be much discussion and frustration regarding it. However it does require a reality check as to the overall intent and goal for this revenue.”

He said there are other options, including designating a funding stream for economic development and infrastructure repair as was done in 2018 with $250,000 to Verona for the Willow Place project and fire department.

“There are always solutions if reasonable people can gather properly and discuss them in the best interests of all concerned. I will seek to do just that.”

A major initiative Picente proposed targets youth employment. He proposed a partnership between Oneida County Workforce Development, Mohawk Valley Community College, Leadership Mohawk Valley, the Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties’ Impact Center at the former Utica Free Academy to help at-risk teens get jobs.

It would lead, he said he hopes, to a Community Services Corps of teens who meet income requirements similar to the Summer Youth Employment Program. They would work for non-profit organizations on weekends, during school vacations and for special events, with a subsidy of wages up to 50 percent and the employer paying the balance.

A long-term goal of this project would be to establish a Youth Employment and Service Center at the Impact Center, which would serve as a place where youth can connect with educational and employment opportunities, Picente said.

More staff is planned to handle the raise-the-age law that treats older teens as juveniles in court.

Because the spending increase exceeds a state-imposed tax cap, the Legislature would need to vote to override the 2 percent limit, Picente noted.

“Again, not because of our property taxes, but because of a confluence of chargebacks, including the cost of three elections that took place last year. In addition, we are tied to a New York State imposed chargeback system where we pay for our students to go to other community colleges throughout the state,” Picente said.

In the capital budget, Picente proposed repurposing Building 100 at Griffis International Airport to feature a new facade, elevator, three floors of office and conference space, clean labs, and an auditorium. In the east hangar bay, he proposes a year-round indoor drone experiment venue, named Skydome.