LOCKPORT – A proposed 2014 Niagara County budget that reduces taxes and the size of the county workforce was released Friday by County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz.
The budget trims the amount to be collected in property taxes by one-half of 1 percent, while the countywide average full-value tax rate falls by 12 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, to $7.60.
The budget abolishes 13 positions, all but one of them currently vacant, while creating five new ones.
The spending proposal imposes a requirement that all non-union employees begin paying 10 percent of their health insurance premiums, beginning Jan. 1.
Union employees, who are working under terms of expired contracts, do not pay toward insurance premiums unless they select the most expensive of the county’s three plans.
Budget Director Daniel R. Huntington said only about 50 of the 1,387 county employees are in that premium option.
Huntington said the total coat of health insurance is rising 8.7 percent, or $2.28 million.
“If we did have 10 percent (contributions) for actives and retirees, that $2.2 million would be zero,” he said. Active employees account for $1.3 million of the health increase.
The proposed budget raises spending by $11.2 million, or 3.48 percent, to $333 million.
However, Huntington said there’s less spending than meets the eye.
The county passes sales tax money on to localities, which it must list as an expenditure. The same is true of transfer payments under a program that sees the county reselling low-cost power to localities.
A new $742,000 state grant to the Sheriff’s Office to upgrade communications software also must be listed in the spending column, Huntington said.
There remains about $6 million in other spending increases, and half of that is growth in the county share of Safety Net, the state’s unlimited welfare program.
“That is such an out-of-control cost,” Glatz said. “Our cases are going up. People are staying on it longer.”
Of the 3,053 people receiving cash welfare grants in the county, 54 percent are on Safety Net and 46 percent are on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the federal program that limits benefits to five years.
As of this year, the state raised the county share of Safety Net from 50 percent to 71 percent, in exchange for the move toward a hard cap on Medicaid.
That health insurance program for the poor, long a budgetary whipping boy, actually is projected to go in 2014, although Huntington said that’s something of a fluke, because there were 53 weekly payment days this year, and there will be only 52 in 2014.
But the hard cap limits the county’s Medicaid increase to 1 percent in 2014 and zero thereafter. It remains the largest item in the budget at $46.8 million, down $447,000.
State-mandated employee pension fund contributions, which have been rocketing upward in recent years, actually are decreasing in 2014 by $154,000, to $13.9 million.
The budget applies $12.57 million in surplus funds to produce the tax cut. That’s the most that could have been used without violating the rule the County Legislature imposed in 2002, requiring that a surplus equal to 6 percent of the previous year’s spending must always be retained.
Huntington said that leaves $18.2 million unassigned in the county coffers.
The surplus appropriation is only $373,000 more than the surplus amount plowed into the 2013 budget.
The salaries of all union employees will continue to be frozen at 2012 levels, except where longevity or step increases are required by contract. Non-union workers will see a minimum 2 percent raise.
Legislators’ pay remains at $15,075 a year, with an extra $500 for the party leaders and an extra $3,000 for the chairman. Legislators who take health insurance through the county will pay 20 percent of the premium, as they have since 2012.
Funding remains unchanged from 2013 for the six outside agencies the county assists. They are Cornell Cooperative Extension, the NIOGA Library System, the Niagara Community Action Program, the county Soil and Water Conservation District, the Niagara County Historical Society and Mercy Flight.
Eight of the 13 jobs being cut are in the Refuse Disposal District, which stopped accepting material at its only active landfill this summer. The only occupied job to be deleted is an investigator position in the District Attorney’s Office that was funded by a grant that is expiring.
Also being deleted are a tax clerk post in the Treasurer’s Office; a seasonal inspector job in the Health Department; a grant-funded sheriff’s deputy; and a supervising social worker in the Mental Health Department.
The five new jobs being created are: a sheriff’s deputy, replacing the one being cut; a part-time attorney and a clerical post in the Public Defender’s Office; a microcomputer specialist in the Sheriff’s Office; and a geographical information system analyst in the Information Technology Department.