As a freshman legislator and member of the Ways & Means Committee, I am pleased with the results of the 2013 Onondaga County Budget, which features the lowest property tax levy in more than 20 years. However, there is much more work to be done.
To County Executive Mahoney’s credit, the tentative budget was presented to the legislature with no proposed increase to the 2012 property tax levy of $148.1 million. For perspective, property taxes account for 12 percent of the county’s $1.25 billion budget. After two-and-a-half weeks of extensive due diligence by the Ways & Means Committee and Republican caucus, along with cooperation from the executive team, the proposed levy was reduced to $140.9 million. In Lysander, this 5 percent reduction in spending yields a county tax rate of $5.46 per $1,000.
This $7.2 million reduction of local dollar spending represents the Legislature’s commitment to ongoing and continuous belt-tightening by county government. Some of the more significant cuts from the operating budget include vehicles, computers and other expense proposals. Following early retirements, layoffs and attrition of the last few budget cycles, new staffing requests were largely denied without a positive impact on the budget or measurable benefit to taxpayers. To that end, we also eliminated many vacant positions across several departments. In addition to reducing salary and benefit costs, these efforts provide continued progress in reducing the size of county government.
I’m not alone in the belief that excess reserves are best used to fund one-time capital expenses, such as major projects, repairs and equipment. This approach optimizes tax dollars that you have already paid, avoids over-taxation and limits the operating budget to its essence. The 2013 budget employs this philosophy, using excess fund balances for reduced numbers of replacement vehicles, paving projects and IT equipment, to name a few examples. For other capital expenditures, we will leverage the county’s excellent financial rating and favorable bond market conditions.