Fulton County tentative budget accepted

Just under 2 percent average tax rate increase

Fulton County Budget Director Alice Kuntzsch gives a presentation on the county's tentative $93.4 million 2019 budget to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday afternoon at the County Office Building in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN –The Fulton County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday reviewed a tentative $93.4 million budget for 2019, carrying a slight 1.9 percent average tax rate increase across the county.

The news is better for county residents compared to the 2018 budget, for which supervisors adopted an average 7.7 percent tax rate hike.

The Budget Review Committee has already applied $3 million of general fund balance during the 2019 tentative budget formulation.

County taxpayers residing in the city of Gloversville would see their tax rate go down by 1.6 percent in 2019, while city of Johnstown residents would experience a 2.65 percent tax rate hike. The best tax rate news among the 10 towns would be a 1.8 percent decrease for the town of Bleecker. The town of Oppenheim faces an 11.2 percent rate hike.

The board on Tuesday voted to “accept” the tentative budget after hearing a presentation by Budget Director Alice Kuntzsch at the County Office Building. Actual budget adoption will occur later this month or in December, although supervisors are leaning toward the former.

Supervisors set a public hearing on the budget for 1:30 p.m. Nov. 28 in the supervisor’s chambers, after which the board may adopt the budget. A budget workshop was set for 10 a.m. earlier that day.

County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said the Finance Committee’s thinking this year was: “Most budget deliberations have a potential to be wrapped up in one session.”

The tentative budget compared to the current adopted 2018 county budget carries a 1.1 percent increase in appropriations — just over $1 million. Federal and state aid increased 4 percent or $839,091. Personnel costs make up 41 percent of the county budget.

According to the tentative budget, the average county tax rate for 2019 would increase by 1.9 percent — by 21 cents from $10.76 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $10.97 per $1,000. The average county resident with a home assessed at $100,000 will pay an additional $21 on their tax bill next year. The tentative county tax levy stands at $30.4 million.

The tax levy shows an increase of 2.5 percent — currently one-half percentage point above the state tax cap imposed on Fulton County of 2 percent. In order to meet the cap, an additional $106,000 reduction in the tax levy would have to be achieved. The Board of Supervisors to this point has not voted to give itself the option of exceeding the cap.

“The 2019 [budget] timeline actually started in April,” Kuntzsch said.

By summer, she said departmental requests resulted in a 25 percent levy increase, but that was greatly reduced by supervisors.

At 59.6 percent, Kuntzsch said Fulton County is well below the state’s constitutional tax limit, in which 90 percent is considered the “danger zone,” she said.

“This budget includes a number of positive aspects,” the budget director said.

She said those include increased revenue, an ongoing pledge to grow the tax base, joint municipal agreements, and settled employee contracts. She said discretionary expenses have remained “relatively unchanged.”

“A stronger economy is emerging,” she added.

Kuntzsch said projections show an increase for county share of sales tax of 8.4 percent for 2019, or $1.15 million. Other revenues that have rebounded are interest on deposits and investment of 124 percent or $122,000; Compassionate Care Act by 69 percent, or $45,000; and casino licensing fees by 11 percent, or $25,000. Additionally, the county’s tax on hotel occupancy revenue of $188,435 was budgeted for a larger portion of the county’s Tourism Promotion Program.

Kuntzsch said the tentative budget continues to spur economic development with $980,000 in capital project funding for economic development and new land development.

“Hats off to departments that presented budgets,” she said.

In the personnel area, Kuntzsch said the county is preparing for the new Raise the Age Law. The tentative budget includes $1.3 million in expenditures and matching revenues within the social services, probation and sheriff’s departments’ budget for Raise the Age.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.