TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino has released his recommended $186.5 million 2019 budget for the county on Tuesday. This year’s tax levy has increased 1.43 percent, but the tax rate has gone down.

In the 2019 recommended budget, the tax rate is going down to $6.39 per $1,000 of assessed property value. There will also be an added $3 solid waste fee this year, bringing the total solid waste fee to $58. If the budget is approved as-is, the owner of a median-valued $185,000 home would see a $15.40 increase to their tax bill.

Some of the priorities in next year’s budget include keeping current programs stable, reducing the population of the Tompkins County Jail, addressing the shortage in affordable housing and maintaining a diverse, well-trained, motivated workforce.

Related: Where is your money going? Breaking down priorities in Tompkins 2018 budget

The 2019 budget benefits from a strong local economy and a 4.3 percent tax base increase, Molino said. Sales tax revenue is also expected to finish strong in 2018. However, Molino said sales tax is “volatile,” so the budget accounts for lower than anticipated revenue. The county is also receiving casino revenue. Though the county does not have a casino, it is benefiting from Lago Resort & Casino and Tioga Downs.

This is Molino’s first budget for Tompkins County. He came on as county administrator at the beginning of 2018 after former administrator Joe Mareane retired.

Over the next month and beyond, legislators will examine the budget and listen to department leaders and the public to make changes.

“This is one of the most important processes that the Legislature goes through,” Molino said. “Preparing the budget is one of the more in-depth processes we go through as a staff, particularly myself, to prepare the next year’s really work plan, so to speak, of revenues and expenditures and what’s going to support the services and initiatives moving forward.”

Later in the process, there will be a community forum for the public. However, all Tompkins County Legislature committee and budget meetings are public. See a link to more information directly below.

Budget and information available here

Though the solid waste fee has been a stable $55 for the past three years, it is increasing to $58 in 2019 because recycling commodity prices have declined more than 50 percent. The county is expecting a $400,000 revenue shortfall, coupled with a $500,000 increase in countywide recycling collection costs.

Reducing the Tompkins County Jail population and continuing re-entry efforts continues to be a priority, Molino said. Last year, the county invested about $800,000 for related initiatives, such as expanding mental health staff at the jail, filling a criminal justice coordinator position and supporting the College Initiative Upstate.

The county has again put aside about $300,000 in potential board-out costs, though the county has been able to keep those low even though the jail lost its variance allowing 18 extra beds last year.

A change in legislation will also impact Tompkins County finances in 2019. As part of Raise the Age legislation, the age of juvenile delinquency will rise to 17 in October and to 18 in October 2019. As a first step, the budget is adding $150,000 to the probation department budget and [sets aside]budgets $1.65 million for estimated detention expenses to the DSS Child Care budget. It’s currently unclear how much local municipalities will be reimbursed by the state for Raise the Age costs.

Legislators will review the recommended budget in detail at the first meeting of the county’s Expanded Budget Committee at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Tompkins County Legislature Chambers, 121 E. Court St., Ithaca.

Check back for more updates as the budget discussions continue. Is there a topic area you would really like to see covered related to the budget? Or is there a question you would like answered? Email Kelsey O’Connor at koconnor@ithacavoice.com.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.