AUBURN — A marathon session of the Cayuga County Legislature Tuesday ultimately ended with the passage of a 2019 operating budget with a total tax levy of $40.61 million.
The approved budget includes a total tax levy of $40.61 million, a 2.06-percent increase over 2018, with a fund balance draw of $838,475. To reach the lower levy, Legislators made $133,919 worth of cuts from the previously approved preliminary budget.
The preliminary budget had a total tax levy of $40.75 million, a 2.4-percent increase over 2018, with a fund balance draw of $806,975. Both the total levy and fund balance use of the preliminary budget were the result of cuts, primarily from new staffing positions, made from the county administrator's tentative budget.
The most significant cuts approved Tuesday came from the removal of a new Human Resources Department position, a new IT Department position, and a $25,000 reduction in the Cayuga Economic Development Agency's budget on top of a reduction already included in the preliminary budget.
Legislator Timothy Lattimore, R-Auburn, proposed the reduction for CEDA, saying it was his belief that the county did not have sufficient grant writing capabilities for economic development and was not getting its money's worth with CEDA.
"We can do it in-house better and cheaper," Lattimore said.
However, Lattimore did not offer an alternative for how to use the cut funds — the money was simply returned to the tax levy — prompting concern from several legislators over whether cutting the money would actually help economic development.
"We can't be supportive of [economic development] and cut it," Legislator Keith Batman, D-Springport said.
The budget passed after a nearly four-hour discussion that included a break for parties to caucus, the late arrival of the Legislature chair, an overturned vote and numerous instances of confusion over rules of procedure.
During a public hearing portion, Rebecca Spooner joined a crowd of residents attending the meeting to ask for the county to restore funding to the county's nine public libraries.
Spooner, a patron of Moravia's Powers Library, was one of several speakers, and noted how much she and others like her relied on the library to help with homeschooling. Other speakers noted how libraries often function as a community center, act as the only way to access the internet in rural areas, and more.
Legislator Tucker Whitman, R-Sterling, said he didn't believe any of the legislators did not support libraries, noting that he was home-schooled himself, but thought it had previously been made clear during the 2018 budget process that the county would not continue with funding the system so libraries would seek alternative means of funding.
"The thought is they have a way to generate revenue in one place where we can vote it up or down," Whitman said.
There was some debate over whether that was the Legislature's previous intent, but Whitman amended a motion by Legislator Joseph DeForest, D-Venice, to restore $31,500 of funding so the money would come from the fund balance instead of the tax levy.
While Whitman attempted to make it clear in the resolution that the Legislature would not be providing more funding in the future, acting County Attorney Chris Palermo said that could not be done. As well, several legislators, including DeForest, pledged to continue funding the system when voting in favor of Whitman's amendment.