MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Putnam County residents will see a 2.2 percent increase in their tax rate next year, according to County Executive MaryEllen Odell, who gave her annual budget presentation at the Putnam County Golf Course in Mahopac last Thursday (Oct. 5).
It was Odell’s sixth budget presentation and the $155.3 million spending package marked the sixth straight year the budget remained under the state-imposed tax levy cap (the total amount raised by taxes), which was 1.84 percent this year.
Odell said that the average homeowner, with a house assessed at $277,000, will see their tax bill go from $962 to $984—a 2.2 percent hike.
Expenditures were up $2.3 million over last year’s budget—a 1.5 percent spending increase.
“It is a challenge every year to develop a budget that keeps within the Albany-imposed tax cap while delivering mandated services, providing the quality of life needs of the residents as well as the needs of our employees and retirees; and planning for a fiscally secure future,” Odell said. “However, because of the efforts that this administration puts forth each day, we continue to be able to meet that challenge.”
The proposed budget includes a $1.3 million increase in employee and retiree health insurance costs; a $1.1 million increase in personnel costs; a $753,000 increase in the early intervention/preschool education program and a $350,000 increase in debt service costs. The budget also reflects a $2.4 million decrease in state pension expenses due to an amortization payoff, which resulted in an interest cost savings of $773,000 for the county.
“You can only plan so much. As they say, man plans and God laughs,” Odell said. “But we don’t kick the can down the road. We deliver a plan.”
The county executive said she anticipates that the budget will allow Putnam to continue to earn its Moody’s Aa2 bond rating. She also noted that the county has reduced its long-term debt by 15 percent since she came into office in 2011. It has also eliminated its short-term debt of $17.2 million completely.
Odell pointed out once again that a majority of the county budget is ruled by federal and state unfunded mandates. Seventy percent of the proposed budget, or $107.6 million, consists of the more than 200 mandated programs, which are set by the federal or state governments with little input from the county. The other $47.7 million, or 30 percent of the proposed budget, is made up of quality of life costs such as the Sheriff’s Department’s road patrol, Office of Senior Resources, retiree health benefits, emergency services, parks and recreation and the PART paratransit system.
Odell unveiled a plan where the county will offer an alternative to the state’s health insurance program through Benistar, a program that eligible retirees can voluntarily switch to. She said that Benistar offers a low option and a high option for both individuals and families that cost equal to or less than the current insurance plan. The savings would be shared by the county and the retirees proportional to the contribution. She estimated the total savings at $182,181.
On the revenue side of the budget, property taxes make up 27 percent, or $42.3 million. Sales tax is the largest contributor at 38 percent or $58.5 million. The county departments are expected to generate $26.8 million, or 17 percent, and state and federal reimbursements will make up $27.7 million, or 18 percent, of the total county revenue.
“I think we have a budget that is a fair balance between fiscal and social responsibility,” Odell said.