Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente announced a nearly three percent tax hike with his budget proposal Friday. He said he was content with keeping taxes below the cap this year, but the county may not be so lucky in years to come. Our Andrew Sorensen looks at how programs' rising costs are a growing cloud on the budget horizon.
UTICA, N.Y. -- Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente's new proposed budget keeps the county's fiscal house in order with a 2.95 percent tax increase, well within their four percent limit.
Picente says most residents can handle the hike of about $20 on average, but not for long.
"It is a warning sign that it's not going to get better, it's going to get worse unless something is done," he said.
The county executive says his administration's cost-cutting policies have saved tax payers in recent years by slimming down to bare bones operations and consolidating services.
“We're not reinventing the wheel, we're not starting a whole new department, we're contracting, consolidating, you know on a regional aspect.”
The county executive says his programs will continue to keep taxes low, but there are two problematic programs for which the costs continue to rise.
"We're pleased with the relief the governor and the legislature gave, but Medicaid still rises, it still will be, for our county, over $56 million," he explained.
Picente sees medical costs as a factor which will eat up more of the budget every year as Medicaid case loads and related programs continue to rise.
"The mandated side of government is going up and our 911 system costs are going up," he added.
His second burden is the county's high-tech 911 center. Their increases for 2013 account for a 1.7 percent tax increase by themselves.
"Now we've moved into everybody using cell phones, wireless technology," Deputy Director of Emergency Services, which runs the 911 center, Gerald Pedersen said.
The transition from landlines to mobile phones has cut the center's funding by eliminating the old 35 cent fee and it increases their need for technology as they need to track calls to help people.
"The public deserves it and demands it. So it's a struggle to keep up with technology but we really have no choice," Pedersen said.
The county has tried for several years to get the state legislature to approve a 30 cent 911 cell phone fee many other counties employ, but without much luck. Picente says if the 911 fee isn't approved and additional mandate relief doesn't come quickly, future county budgets will likely be facing their own emergencies.
Picente's budget does include a number of development programs and capital projects. He says there are also portions of the budget he hasn't addressed yet that could change before it is implemented.