Broome residents facing 3 percent property tax increase

By Erika Mahoney

September 12, 2013 Updated Sep 12, 2013 at 2:26 AM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Broome County Executive Debbie Preston on Wednesday proposed a much different budget from what she presented to legislators last year.

While she and legislators were able to hold the line on taxes in 2013, Preston is proposing a 2.97 percent property tax increase for 2014.

Preston said she's proposing the increase because of rising costs associated with the Broome County Transit System, the Broome County Correctional Facility and the county-owned Willow Point Nursing Home.

She also attributes the need for more money because of new costs associated with President Obama's Affordable Healthcare Law and growing contractual obligations to employee unions.

The county's employees were a reoccurring theme Wednesday.

Throughout her speech, Preston reiterated her stance when it comes to employees whose salaries are paid for by the public: "This budget is for the 200,000 residents of Broome County, not just the 2,000 Broome County employees," she said more than once.

With that message comes Preston's endeavor to re-negotiate union contracts.

According to the county executive, employee salaries and benefits have more than doubled in the past 20 years, from $65 million in 1994 to an estimated $134 million this year.

"When I'm out with the people, and I see the people, they are struggling," Preston said. "And the people in the private sector are not making this, they don't receive these kinds of increases every year, and they have to pay for it. So when I sit back and look at this, and looking at all these charts, how is that right?"

Preston said she has already embarked on negotiations with two unions whose contracts recently expired, and will take the same approach with six other groups whose contracts will expire during the next two years.

Not everyone was in favor of Preston's delivery, calling her remarks "anti-union."

"I thought the tone was a little bit rough as far as it being extremely anti-union," said Broome County Legislator Dan D. Reynolds, a democrat. "I was kind of surprised to see her go after the workers in that fashion."

This summer, a study by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli deemed the county "susceptible to fiscal stress."

Preston said Wednesday the reason for the state's designation was because of its existing fund balance at the time.

In response, Preston proposed decreasing the county's operational borrowing, the amount of time allocated for borrowing, and reducing the amount used from county reserves. All of that, she says, would help to restore the county's fund balance.

From cutting to increasing, Preston proposed to add two more county buses and maintain routes and fees.

In response to rising crime in the county, Preston has proposed to add two new dispatchers in the Office of Emergency Services, a new assistant district attorney, a new probation officer, and three new employees for a child protect service unit.

Preston also proposed to expand the jail's medical center and convert its gym into dorms to cut down on paying for inmates to to be held in other facilities, which is expensive.

Broome County Chairman Jerry Marinich said he's happy to see some of the issues he believes have been buried in the past resurfacing.

"She has brought up some strong points," said Marinich, a Republican. "She brought up some issues that had not been taken care of for many years. The medical unit at the jail, should have been done many years ago. It was never done. It's costing us some money to do it. But it needs to be done. The transit, we are fortunate we got some buses from Congressman Hanna and I'm glad we budgeted for two more."

Municipalities could also receive nearly $1.7 million more in sales taxes.

According to Marinich, the proposal will go before the public in the beginning of October. The legislature will then offer their changes and vote for approval by Nov. 15.

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