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Monroe County Legislature unanimously approves Bello's $1.4 billion budget

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The Monroe County Legislature on Tuesday unanimously approved County Executive Adam Bello’s $1.4 billion budget for next year.

The 2024 budget will hold the amount the county raises through property taxes flat at roughly $833 million. Bello has said it will result in the lowest property tax in several decades, an average of $6.65 per $1,000 assessed value.

“Not only does it cut taxes, but it makes investments in the areas that Republicans have always fought for public safety, infrastructure, veterans support, first responders support and more,” said Republican Legislator Richard Milne.

The spending plan is 9% larger than the approved 2023 county budget. When he announced his proposal, Bello said the growth occurred largely in employee payroll and benefits, public assistance benefits and Medicaid, contractual services, and a one-time grant for public safety communications equipment.

It also includes an additional $20.5 million for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. That funding represents the full-year cost for the Sheriff’s Office expansion approved earlier this year by the County Legislature. The office added 41 deputies and created the Regional Investigative Operations Center, which coordinates investigations into patterns of criminal activity that span multiple communities, such as catalytic converter thefts.

Bello’s proposal would also add four child care assistance examiners in the Department of Human Services to help more families access day care subsidies. And it contains funding for the county to open a homeless shelter in the Corn Hill neighborhood.

Democratic Legislator Rachel Barnhart has called for the Bello administration to boost spending on social services, particularly housing assistance. On Thursday, she proposed a budget amendment that would have created a $10 million fund controlled by the Legislature to support more robust housing assistance programs, such as rent or security deposit assistance.

That amendment failed in a 9-20 vote, with only Democrats supporting it.

“When it comes to housing, Monroe County is Grinch like,” Barnhart said as she introduced her proposal. “I don't think I need to explain the need for additional funds to support housing. You see it with your own eyes. You've heard people to speak to the county legislature.”

Bello’s budget also contains a 25% increase in funding for arts organizations and a $75,000 allocation for a study on resuming the Monroe County Fair. The fair was last held in 2019.

Tuesday’s meeting of the Legislature ground to a halt for about 30 minutes when a group of pro-Palestinian protesters staged a protest in the chamber. They called on legislators and Bello to advocate for a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. Protesters stood with arms outstretched and their palms painted red to signify the death of Palestinian citizens.

Some protesters removed the Israeli flag at the County Office Building and stomped on it on the sidewalk upon exiting the building.

Halima Aweis, an organizer with Free the People Roc, called Tuesday’s action necessary to support the people of Monroe County.

“We are here because we care about this community, we want this legislature to care about this community, they need to divest from the state of Israel,” Aweis said.

Reporter Gino Fanelli contributed to this story.

Jeremy Moule is a deputy editor with WXXI News. He also covers Monroe County.