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Orleans County legislators Wednesday released a preliminary budget of $58.3 million for 2005 that features a tax rate decrease of 16 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The tax rate is projected at $8.14 per $1,000, with total expenditures expected to increase by about 2.9 percent, or $1.6 million, over the figure for 2004.

County officials said the proposed tax cut was made possible through use of the county's increased fund balance and an increase in real property value. The tax levy was projected to increase by $496,333, officials said.

"We are fortunate we can do it this year," said Marcia B. Tuohey, Legislature chairwoman.

Legislator David Callard, R-at-Large, said he hopes that the county would be able to afford the tax cut, the first in five years.

"I always think one to two years ahead," Callard said. "I'm concerned if we will sustain the tax rate."

Legislators debated the need to include funding for an excavator, with a cost estimated at $87,000 to $90,000. County officials said the machinery is budgeted and would not raise taxes.

"I think it is a good budget," said Legislator George Bower, R-at-Large.

Spending is proposed to increase by $1.6 million, or 2.9 percent, over the 2004 figure. Revenue would rise by an estimated $1.3 million, or 3.1 percent.

Medicaid expenditures would be $700,000 less than previously projected, a savings that is being used to reduce the tax levy.

The spending plan also features a general 3 percent wage increase for personnel. That must be approved by the Legislature.

The number of full-time county employees would increase from 444 to 446, and 13 part-time positions would be eliminated.

A public hearing on the preliminary budget is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6 in Orleans County Courthouse.

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