Monroe County Executive Adam Bello has proposed a 2021 budget that is essentially flat at $1.2 billion and that drops the average property tax rate by 26 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
Bello’s first county budget proposal, introduced during the midst of a pandemic that has injected uncertainty into government spending plans everywhere, if approved as is would be the third consecutive county budget to reduce the property tax rate.
Under the plan, the average tax rate would be $8.53 per $1,000 assessed value, down from $8.79 in 2020 and $8.89 in 2019. The savings would translate to roughly $52 for a home assessed at $200,000.
“This is a responsible plan for uncertain times,” Bello said during a news conference Thursday to unveil his spending plan, adding that he wanted to present a county budget that would not add to the economic stresses facing many taxpayers.
But just because the tax rate is decreasing doesn’t mean property owners will necessarily pay less in taxes this year than last for a couple of reasons.
First, the rate is a countywide average and homeowners in different municipalities pay varying rates based on the last time their local governments reassessed property values. Secondly, assessments directly affect how much a property owner pays in taxes. If the tax rate drops but a property’s assessment rises, it could mean the owner will pay more in taxes.
Bello’s tax rate cut was made possible through growth in the county’s tax base, Bob Franklin, the county’s chief financial officer, explained. The 2021 plan puts the taxable value of properties in the county at $48.7 billion, a 6 percent increase over the previous year. The tax rate cuts in the 2020 and 2019 budgets, developed under former County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, were also enabled by growth in the property tax base.
Likewise, the county plans to collect $415.4 million in property taxes under Bello’s 2021 plan, up 2.8 percent from the $403.9 levy in Dinolfo’s 2020 budget.
In a statement, Legislature Republican Majority Leader Steve Brew took aim at Bello for claiming he’s cutting taxes.
“Bello’s $11 million tax levy increase is nearly double the 10-year historical average,” Brew’s statement read. “Taxpayers are tired of the hypocrisy displayed by politicians who say one thing to get elected and then do the opposite once in office. If Adam Bello said last year’s levy was a tax increase, then he must also admit that he is trying to raise taxes by $11 million.”
During Thursday’s news conference, Bello never claimed he was lowering taxes, just the tax rate.
When Republicans Maggie Brooks and Cheryl Dinolfo held the county exec’s office, they often touted flat tax rates or lowered tax rates as a top achievement, even as the tax levy grew every year they were in office.
In 2019, Dinolfo’s budget raised the levy by $11.6 million over the previous year while the tax base had grown by 4 percent. Bello’s 2021 proposal raises the levy $11.5 million though the tax base grew by 6 percent.
As he presented his proposal, Bello noted several times that the ongoing pandemic has created economic uncertainty, which could translate into a loss of sales tax revenues and state aid. His 2021 plan includes $11.6 million to account for such losses.
“These challenges will not disappear on Jan. 1, 2021,” Bello said.
The budget also holds open a few hundred positions, continuing what Franklin called a “soft hiring freeze” meant to hold expenses down. The county is adding the equivalent of roughly 78 positions, most of which are funded through state grants and are in the Public Defender’s Office and Conflict Defender’s Office.
Bello’s proposed budget would also:
- Merge the county’s Economic Development and Workforce Development departments, a move that Bello said would help connect employers and employees.
- Fund the county’s new Improving Addiction and Coordination Team (IMPACT), which is meant to help address the opioid crisis and expand county addiction services.
- Provide $472,881 to fund the county’s new Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which is tasked with helping county departments improve recruitment and retention efforts, improve the county’s minority- and women-owned business enterprises selection procedures, and investigate internal complaints around harassment, discrimination, hostile work environment, and unequal treatment.
- Add three new health services coordinator positions to the county’s Early Intervention program for young children. It would also add a customer service provider position to the program, which would be responsible for helping parents with accessing related services, such as transportation for pre-school special education students.
- Cut down on the sale of delinquent property tax liens to raise revenue, with the goal of eliminating the practice entirely by 2022.
- Eliminate the so-called “snow tax,” a special fee assessed to towns for snow and ice removal that was put in place in 2013 during the Brooks administration. Suburban residents paid roughly $5 million a year through the fee; the cost of snow and ice removal will now be paid out of the general budget and tax levy.
Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.