TO: Genesee County Legislators, Fellow Employees and Geneseeans
FROM: L. Matthew Landers, County Manager/Budget Officer
DATE: November 22, 2021
SUBJECT: Genesee County Adopted 2022 Budget
As Genesee County Manager, I am pleased to present the 2022 adopted budget. This budget funds County government in an efficient and responsible manner, while making key investments which will help deliver better service to the residents of Genesee County. The adopted budget stays under the NYS tax cap, while covering a lengthy number of expensive State mandates of which we have little to no control. Assembling a budget for the second year in a row dealing with a global pandemic and all of its uncertainties has certainly been a challenge, but the staff from the Manager’s Office, Treasurer’s Office, Legislative Office and Human Resources Department all came together to help me deliver my second adopted budget as County Manager. These core central departments were instrumental in me being able to deliver a budget that stays under the tax cap while meeting the needs of the residents of Genesee County.
There is going to be a uniform theme over the next several County budgets with a consistent message coming from the Manager’s Office, which centers on the new County jail and the County’s constant race to keep water supply ahead of demand. The County is embarking on two of the largest capital infrastructure projects in its history with a new County jail carrying a price tag of approximately $70 million and phase three of the County wide water system and its current projected price tag of $85 million. These two projects are going to weigh heavily on the decisions made by the Manager’s Office and County Legislature for the foreseeable future, which is even evident in the 2022 adopted County budget.
County departments were instructed to once again do more with less, be creative and think outside the box in trying to keep their net County support impact to the same level as the 2021 budget. This was a challenge considering health insurance premiums were once again increasing while spiking inflation and supply chain issues are causing vendor contracts to increase. Despite these increases, I was pleased to see the majority of departments hold the line on spending, which helped greatly in delivering a budget that not only stays under the tax cap, but keeps the property tax levy flat.
The 2022 adopted All Funds budget for Genesee County totals $158,973,466, which is $15,763,787 more than the 2022 adopted All Funds budget. The 2022 adopted General Fund (operating) budget is $119,364,744, which is $9,083,607 more than the 2021 adopted General Fund budget. The majority of the increase in the All Funds budget is from Phase 2 water infrastructure expenditures, new hires in the Public Defender’s Office, Jail and Highway departments, strategic Information Technology department investments, increases in the Public Health budget for combatting COVID-19, and a reserve set aside to go towards the construction of the Genesee County jail that has a spring 2022 planned ground breaking.
The 2022 adopted property tax levy is $31,451,727, which is the same levy that was raised in the 2021 adopted budget. The average County property tax rate in Genesee County would go down from $9.80 to $9.18 or 6.33% in the adopted budget. For the median residential household in Genesee County assessed at 122,935, that did not have an assessment change from 2021, this will result in a net tax decrease of $76.22.
The adopted budget includes usage of $2,077,484 of unappropriated fund balance, a decrease of $330,283 from the 2021 adopted County budget. The budgeted fund balance utilization is in line with past budgets.
The 2022 adopted budget includes a continued commitment in increased funding for our roads and bridges infrastructure annually by $1 million. Deferred maintenance on the County’s infrastructure is getting to a critical point and the cracks are showing, literally, as evidenced by recent bridge closures. This continued commitment of an extra $1 million is a big step in addressing the deferred maintenance of the County road and bridge infrastructure.
As we come out of the worst days of the pandemic the economy is showing positive signs of recovery, which is allowing the County to make long overdue improvements which will, in turn result in better service delivery to residents. Some of these new positions are mandated, such as the four new corrections officers as part of the required transition team for the new County jail. Some of the positions are fully grant funded, such as the assistant public defenders and social worker in the Public Defender’s Office. While the remaining are long overdue investments that a 21st century County government should make. We are investing in new positions in Information Technology, Administration and the Highway Department. In addition to these new positions, the budget reflects a full year cost of new positions created in the 2021 budget, but were only budgeted for a half year in 2021. These new positions were established in the Human Resources Department, County Manager’s Office and the Veteran’s Department.
While there were familiar challenges faced in this budget such as rising wages and healthcare costs along with the usual costly state mandates, two large issues looming for not only the 2022 budget but future budgets as well is the new Genesee County jail and the challenge for Genesee County to keep water supply ahead of demand through the construction of phase three of the County wide water system:
- Health Insurance Cost Increases – Rising health care costs have caused a necessary 4.5% increase in plan premiums. 85% or more of that premium increase is absorbed in the various County departmental operating budgets, resulting in an overall healthcare cost increase in the 2021 adopted County budget.
- Wage Increases – Rising wages in every sector has made recruiting and retaining qualified and capable County employees more challenging.
- Mandates – Approximately 81% of the 2022 adopted property tax levy is made up of State mandated expenditures to fund departments/programs such as Medicaid, Probation, the Jail, Public Defender’s Office, Assigned Counsel, Social Service programs, Mental Health, Early Intervention, 3-5 Preschool services, and various others.
- New Genesee County Jail – Ground breaking for the long overdue new Genesee County Jail is planned for spring of 2022, and with it brings one of the largest capital projects in County history. With a projected all in price tag of approximately $70 million, the debt service estimates are approximately $3.5 million annually. In addition to the debt service, projected increased operating costs are over $1 million annually. While the majority of these fixed and operational increases will hit in the 2023 budget, the hiring of four new corrections officers, a new full time nurse at the jail and a new position in Facilities Maintenance are all being done in the 2022 budget and all of these positions are part of the projected operating cost increases for the jail.
- Genesee County Water System, Phase 2, 3 & 4 – Genesee County is nearing completion of the $23+ million phase 2 of the County-wide water system, and is quickly designing the $85+ million phase 3 which should hopefully break ground in the next few years. Phase 3 includes bringing in enough water from Monroe County to close the City of Batavia water plant, which draws from a threatened source and has long outlived its useful life. However, before the plant comes off-line, millions more have to be invested to ensure water supply keeps up with demand until phase 3 is complete.
County Responses to Budget Challenges
With the New York State tax cap in place, which penalizes Counties for enacting an override, options to meet the budget challenges are somewhat limited. Genesee County has a long history of doing more with less, sharing wherever possible, privatizing operations, deferring needed capital improvements, modestly compensating employees, and providing virtually no post-employment benefits to staff. After years of cutting to the bone the following actions were available to close the gap for the 2022 adopted budget:
- Fund Balance Utilization – The 2022 adopted budget utilizes $2,077,484 of fund balance.
- Freezing Sales Tax with Towns & Villages – This decision was deliberated by the Legislature in great length. Taking into consideration the substantial capital projects facing the County, the burden of maintaining all of the bridges and culverts in the County, and the track record of making short sighted decisions because of budgetary constraints, the Legislature decided on a figure of $10,000,000 of sales tax to share with Towns and Villages for the remainder of the forty years sales tax sharing agreement with the City of Batavia. While this amount is less than desirable for Towns and Villages, the County is still able to provide a solid baseline of funding over the next few decades that municipalities can safely budget from.
- Line by Line Review with New Perspective – With new eyes involved in the budget process the last two years there have been new ideas and solutions brought to the table that resulted in savings in various County departments. For the second year in a row I was accompanied by the Assistant County Manager and Executive Assistant in every budget meeting, a process that helps ensure no rock is left unturned. A closer dive into the individual budget lines resulted in significant budgetary savings when aggregated. We were also able to utilize greater sharing of resources between departments to capture more state aid and reduce the net county share in several cases.
While I am pleased to present a budget that stays within the confines of the New York State Tax Cap, keeps the property tax levy flat and effectively lowers the property tax rate by $.62/1,000, I am not blind to the significant impact the proposed tax levy has on the citizens and businesses of Genesee County. My time as County Manager has just recently begun and I pledge to work with local governments, community not-for-profits, the business community and local citizens on ways to spend these precious resources as efficiently as possible.
I want to give a special thanks to Vicky Muckle, Tammi Ferringer and Scott German in helping me to prepare this year’s budget. While all three provided many hours of counsel and debate on how the budget should be structured, Vicky had the pleasure of making countless revisions to the budget and as the seasoned veteran in the office, ensured I stayed on task in delivering this balanced budget. I also want to thank the Legislature and Chairwoman Stein for their guidance and feedback during this budget season. The leadership and vision of this Legislature was instrumental in being able to deliver a budget that does not increase the property tax burden on residents of Genesee County.