December 2, 2021

Amendments to county budget endorsed

Cortland Standard file photo

The Cortland County Legislature will consider amending its 2019 proposed budget Thursday for five funding changes, including providing funding to four tourism-related agencies.

The Budget and Finance Committee had a special meeting Monday to review the $134.2 million budget proposal and vote on recommended changes. Several were discussed, and five were endorsed.

While the changes would increase the budget, county Information Technology Director Rob Corpora, who has helped put the budget together, said after the meeting the changes should not change the proposed tax rate — $15.37 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a 1.3 percent increase from 2018 — or the proposed tax levy — $35.4 million, a 2 percent increase from 2018. He still had to calculate the changes.

The legislators would need to approve a resolution during the Thursday night Legislature meeting to amend the tentative budget to add the changes, said Legislature Clerk Eric Mulvihill. It is expected legislators will vote to adopt the budget Thursday night, too, if no other changes are proposed. There will be a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Funding tourism agencies

Earlier this month, the Budget and Finance Committee endorsed the distribution of $500,000 in occupancy tax to several tourism-related agencies and events. With $70,000 less in available occupancy tax to work with than last year, most of the agencies and events saw cuts.

Last year, four agencies –– The 1890 House, Cortland County Historical Society, Central New York Living History Center and Lime Hollow Nature Center –– were given in total $57,000 from the county’s general fund to account for a shortfall created by a lack of communication between the Legislature and former director of budget and finance.

For years, the four agencies were allocated a certain amount of money off the top of income from the county’s occupancy tax, then the rest was distributed to other agencies — and the four. But after the former budget director left the position last year, the budget was passed without the initial off-the-top allocation, leaving the four agencies short.

The county had not arranged for off-the-top allocations again, and Budget and Finance Committee Chairman George Wagner (R-Marathon, Lapeer) said Monday the county told the historical society it would not be funded from the general fund, again.

Kevin Sheets, president of the historical society board of trustees, said the society was led to believe, after previous meeting with legislators, it would be able to get funding from the occupancy tax and general fund.

In total, the four agencies requested $122,000 in occupancy tax funding, and were recommended in total to get $43,000. Wagner stated the occupancy tax is only supposed to be used for advertising, not operational expenses.

“This is the third budget we’ve had this problem,”said Legislator Linda Jones (R-Homer). “Let’s put them back in (the budget).”

After a 15-minute break, where legislators consulted with the four agencies, Jones made the motion to give, in total, $72,000 to the agencies out of the county’s general fund to cover their needs, and the committee endorsed it.

Committee members Sandra Price (D-Virgil, Harford) and Mary Ann Discenza (D-Cortland) were absent.

The funding from the county can be used for various expenses,
not just advertising.

“I’m ecstatic,” Glenn Reisweber, executive director of Lime Hollow, told legislators.

Tipping fee allocations

A resolution to have $1 per ton of the county’s landfill tipping fee go to the county’s landfill closure fund and $4 per ton of the fee to go to the solid waste reserve fund was set to be considered Thursday. County Highway Superintendent Charles Sudbrink expressed his concern Monday that $1 per ton for the closure fund would not be enough.

He predicted it would cost $2.5 million to $3 million to cap the county landfill in about 15 to 20 years. The closure account now has about $270,000.

At $1 per ton, about $33,000 would be generated each year –– equaling $495,000 in 15 years.

“I’m just concerned the county will have to bond to cap the landfill,” Sudbrink said.

The committee endorsed changing the allocations to $3 per ton for the closure fund and equipment fund. In 15 years, $3 per ton could generate about $1.5 million.

Other amendments

In the first phase of the meeting, the Legislature considered removing more than $200,000 from the budget. It was placed in there as estimated revenue from the county district attorney’s proposed program where those caught speeding in the county could pay $200 and take a six-hour course to end up with no fine, surcharge or record of a conviction.

“That hasn’t been passed, yet,” Jones said.

She added some of that $200,000 might also be distributed to municipalities.

Legislator Kelly Preston (RHomer) said the county doesn’t know if it would even get $200,000.

The committee endorsed removing the $200,000, and about another $20,000 –– which would have been to pay for a coordinator to run the program –– from the budget.

The committee also endorsed putting $275,000 in casino money back into the county’s jail reserve account –– instead of its general fund –– and giving about $26,000 to the county probation department to return a support staff position to full-time from part-time.