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Cayuga County Legislature approves budget with 2.25% tax hike
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Cayuga County Legislature approves budget with 2.25% tax hike

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Dec. 10 Legislature meeting

The Cayuga County Legislature holds a special meeting Tuesday to make amendments to the tentative 2020 county budget.

The Cayuga County Legislature has adjusted and finalized the county's 2020 budget.

The Legislature, which originally had posted that its Tuesday special meeting would be solely for the budget proposal's public hearing, ended up approving the final spending plan the same night after listening to some input from the public and following a full Ways and Means Committee meeting.

After approving two last-minute amendments, legislators voted 12-3 to adopt the $153.53 million spending plan, up from $149.91 million. The budget calls for a $41.52 million tax levy, which is up 2.25% from the current level but below the 3.3% New York state cap. Legislature Chair Tucker Whitman, R-Sterling, and Republican legislators Andrew Dennison and Christopher Petrus voted against adopting the budget.

Budget Director Lynn Marinelli explained on Wednesday that because of higher property assessments, the average county tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value would decrease by 0.11 percent. The county is budgeted to use $954,961 from the fund balance, she said, to plug the gap between planned spending and revenue.

Immediately following Tuesday's public hearing, legislators unanimously voted to increase funding for the Cato-Brutus trail by $28,621 — which Marinelli said was transferred from last year's unused funds.

"It basically moved the funding that they had in 2019 to 2020 because they haven't had the chance to work on the project yet," she said. With $25,000 already in the budget, the project received a total of $52,621 from the fund balance.

The Legislature also passed an amendment to cut its funding for the Cayuga Economic Development Agency by $50,000, Marinelli said. The Ways and Means committee restored $300,000 to the agency after the original budget draft eliminated its funding. The 2020 budget now allocates $250,000 to CEDA.

Though he wished the agency's funding hadn't been reduced, Ryan Foley, D-Auburn, said he was satisfied with the overall plan.

"I thought there were some really good things in there that were priorities for my district, including the libraries," Foley said.

The Legislature reserved $31,500 for nine public libraries, though legislators debated during the special meeting on the merits of taxing residents when libraries are also taxed through other special districts.

Whitman developed the initial budget draft with Marinelli and county department heads. On Wednesday, he explained why he voted against the amended budget Tuesday night. "I don't feel like it's a bad budget by any means. I just had a few of my own personal sticking points," he said.

Library funding was one of those points. He felt area library leaders — some of which spoke at the public hearing — understood last year that the county didn't plan to provide funding in 2020.

Whitman also cited disappointment with the Legislature's decision to reserve $90,000 in the budget for a county leadership position. An amendment to reduce the funding by $30,000 failed during the special meeting, Marinelli said.

"Where the budget ended up, I was not happy personally with where it was and it was not something I felt like I could support," Whitman said.

Andrew Dennison, R-Ira, didn't approve of the tax levy being higher than 2% and opposed the library funding, as well. Dennison did vote in favor of amending the budget to create two additional staff positions at the Cayuga County District Attorney's Office, but those measures failed to pass.

Marinelli said the tax levy can't be adjusted now that the budget is finalized, but the spending still can be. "Any additional changes would have to either come from finding the money in the budget or taking it from the fund balance during 2020," she said.

Staff writer Mary Catalfamo can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or mary.catalfamo@lee.net. Find her on Twitter @mrycatalfamo.

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