Editors’ note: This report has been updated to correct an error regarding reserve funds.
Cortland County’s taxpayers can expect to spend 2.3% more in property taxes under a 2022 Cortland County budget introduced Tuesday, a $142 million plan that would increase spending 3.3%.
“This year’s county’s tax cap growth factor allows for an increase on tax levy up to 2.28%, which includes a small carryover from 2021,” said County Administrator Rob Corpora.
Corpora presented the budget proposal Tuesday at a special meeting of the Cortland County Legislature. Legislators asked questions, but few commented.
The tax levy would increase 2.3%, to $37.8 million for 2022 from around $37 million in 2021. Property taxpayers could see about a 1.3% increase in their property tax rates, going to $15.85 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2022 from $15.65 per $1,000 the year prior.
“As chair of the budget finance committee, I agree with your dissertation on everything but the 1.28% increase (of county tax rate),” said Republican Conference Leader George Wagner (RLapeer, Marathon). “In all honesty, I feel this is a very good budget, but I’m looking for ways to get down to 1%.”
The $142 million budget plan does not use money left from the 2021 budget, which Corpora said has not been possible for years.
Also, the county will tap a number of reserve funds, including the retirement contribution reserve, emergency communications towers bond reserve and the landfill equipment reserve.
Corpora added $500,000 to the 2022 budget to help the county address staffing problems.
“There were requests for 25 new positions from various departments, six of these had offsetting deleted positions, which will allow for a more efficient use of personnel and should save money in the 2022 budget,” Corpora said.
Departments had problems hiring and retaining employees, Corpora said.
“Many departments are struggling to retain current employees, and it is almost impossible to recruit new employees, in part, due to the wage differences Cortland County pays in comparison with neighboring counties and the private sector,” Corpora said.
“That $500,000 in the budget is sustainable, it’s not using any fund balance or anything else, so we can continue moving forward and allocate that money toward wages in future years,” Corpora said.
While adding to the budget to prepare for employee salary increases, Corpora said he was conservative with his revenue estimates — recommending a budget of $33 million in 2022, a 5% increase from 2020, even though sources like sales tax revenue have been promising so far.
“Sales tax has been strong so far this year. We’re currently about 16% over the 2019 sales tax rate for the same period,” Corpora said. “The collection of internet sales has been a large boost since it started in 2020.”
Corpora said the county can’t predict how internet sales tax is going to affect other categories of sales tax revenue, like brick and mortar businesses.
“Even though people have been ordering online for a long time, now we’re finally collecting sales tax and COVID has definitely shifted how people buy — we could see a decline in some areas, and an increase in others,” Corpora said.
The legislature is looking to vote on the budget at its Nov. 18 meeting. A public hearing is set for Oct. 26.