After four years of harsh cuts and tough decisions, it's budget season once again. Tompkins County leaders dive into the process of coming up with next year's fiscal plan. Tamara Lindstrom tells us what to expect.
TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. -- It's a task few would envy: Balancing the budget for an entire county while the surrounding economy crumbles.
"2009 was really a devastating year for the county and every county in New York State," said Tompkins County Administrator Joe Mareane. "So we have been trying to adapt to this different economy of ours for the last several years and we've done that by really a balanced approach. We've cut a lot of spending, we've reduced our roster by almost nine percent and we've raised taxes when we needed to raise taxes."
But after several years of trimming numbers and tightening belts, this year's budget does have some bright spots.
"This year is a little different," Mareane said. "I think we found a toehold in this economy where, for the first time in a long time, we've been able to talk about stability as opposed to retrenchment. So it's a much better place this year than we've experienced in the last three or four."
"I feel like we're sort of resting this year," said Tompkins County Legislator Jim Dennis. "And department heads and employees can look at the legislature and not have a fear that here they go again. They’re going to hack my budget apart and I'm going to lose some people."
This year's $164.8 million proposed budget is an increase of .44 percent from last year, and the tax levy would be raised by about 3.5 percent, meaning an $18 increase for the average homeowner.
"With that additional eighteen dollars, we've been able to ensure the community a continuity of service, we've been able to ensure our employees that that dark cloud of impending layoffs has been lifted," Mareane said. "We've been able to invest in some things to allow us to keep small."
Things like technology and training. Officials say keeping an eye on the long term has gotten the county to this point. Now it's a matter of fine-tuning the budget and hoping state and federal agencies don't do anything drastic.
The legislature is now hearing budget presentations from all the county agencies. The public will be invited to comment before the final budget is adopted in November.