Bello’s budget plan slashes legislature fund, slightly decreases tax rate
County Executive Adam Bello proposed a $1.28 billion budget on Tuesday that would boost spending on public safety and the arts and provide funding to update Frontier Field for the Rochester Red Wings.
The plan calls for reducing the county property tax rate to an average of $8.46 per $1,000 of assessed value, a decrease of about 7 cents, but anticipates an increase in the tax levy due to rising property values across the county.
The proposed budget reflects a 3.4-percent increase in spending over the current fiscal year.
"The investments we’re making in this budget will make us all safer and healthier, will grow our economy and workforce, and will rebuild our community’s infrastructure,” Bello said during an address to top county staff at SUNY Brockport’s Rochester Educational Opportunity Center on Chestnut Street.
Bello cast his budget — his second pandemic-era spending plan — as one that would continue to fund county recovery initiatives while setting the stage for the future by providing funding to continue developing a county-wide comprehensive plan, which he called Plan Forward.
In preparing its proposal, the Bello administration faced a starkly different scenario than it did in 2020, when lockdowns caused sales tax and other revenue streams to plummet leaving officials in a scramble to readjust their expectations and plug holes.
Ultimately, the budget passed unanimously, but with two contentious additions, including the creation of a $2.5 million pork barrel “Community Contingency Fund” for legislators to use. Nine Democratic legislators voted against the amendments and when Bello vetoed them, he was overruled by a supermajority of Republicans and breakaway Democrats.
Bello’s proposed 2022 spending plan would eliminate that slush fund, which he said the GOP used to fund “pet projects,” a move that earned him the scorn of the Republican majority and will likely complicate budget deliberations.
“Slush funds have no place in a responsible budget,” Bello said. “None. It’s hiding spending from the public. It’s a gimmick and taxpayers are tired of it.”
Majority Leader Steve Brew, a Republican from Churchville, fired back in a statement that accused Bello of misleading the public on taxes and criticized his framing of the Community Contingency Fund.
Under Bello’s budget, the levy raised by property taxes would increase to $425.3 million from $415.4 billion, a jump that takes advantage of a roughly $1.6 billion rise in property values across the county. Despite a lower tax rate, many homeowners who saw their properties rise in value will likely pay more in property taxes next year.
“Bello expects our community to believe he is cutting taxes when he is actually hiking taxes by nearly $10 million — on top of the $11 million tax levy increase he imposed last year,” Brew said.
His statement took particular issue with Bello’s stance on the Community Contingency Fund, saying that therapy programs for veterans and parks improvements that the fund helped finance were necessary because Bello refused to include them in last year’s budget.
“County Executive Bello proposed a budget today that promises more taxes, more spending and more misdirection while insulting the intelligence of taxpayers, trivializing needed community programs, and claiming false credit and progress here in Monroe County,” read Brew’s statement.
In the coming year, Bello expects the county to pull in $27 million more in sales tax revenues compared with 2021, as well as $160,000 in additional hotel-motel tax.
Bello’s budget proposal includes:
- An increase of $455,000 in funding for small and mid-sized arts organizations, 10 times what the county provided them last year. A total of $500,000 is budgeted for the groups. The county wasn’t doing enough to support the organizations, even before the pandemic, Bello said.
- An additional $4.9 million for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. It also calls for a 3.4 percent increase in public safety spending, and a 6.1 percent increase each to the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices.
- Expanding the county’s Improving Addiction Coordination Team and funding additional outreach workers for the county Youth Bureau. The outreach workers will help teen and youth transitioning out of foster care or detention, according to a summary of the budget provided by the county.
- A boost in funding for the county’s Early Intervention and Preschool Special Education programs for children with developmental delays or disabilities.
- Continuing and expanding the MPower program in partnership with Monroe Community College. The program trains people for existing jobs and helps connect them with employers looking to hire.
- Approximately $7.2 million towards the repair of county park shelters, lodges, courts, access roads, parking lots, and bathrooms.
- Funds to continue improvements at the Seneca Park Zoo.
- A $12 million allocation for upgrades to Frontier Field so that it meets new Major League Baseball standards, an expenditure Bello linked directly to keeping the Red Wings baseball team in Rochester.
Legislators are expected to begin discussing and debating the budget on Nov. 22. A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Dec. 2. A vote on the budget will likely occur at the Dec. 14 Legislature meeting.
Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.