Rensselaer County Budget for 2021 Protects Taxpayers and Needed Services During Challenging Times, County Executive Steve McLaughlin Announces

McLaughlin’s Third Budget Includes Slight Tax Rate Decrease and Maintains County’s Strong Financial Position

The Rensselaer County budget for proposed 2021 protects taxpayers and needed services, while encouraging future investment and job creation, County Executive Steve McLaughlin announced on Friday.

The budget holds the line on taxes, providing a small decrease in the tax rate. Each of the three budgets introduced by McLaughlin has included a small tax rate decrease.

McLaughlin introduced the 2021 spending plan in the Chambers of the Rensselaer County Legislature while also presenting the budget via a live stream to allow for social distancing. The budget addresses a number of the challenges presented by the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The 2021 spending plan does not increase taxes and in fact includes a slight decrease in the tax rate, and both meets the obligations presented by the new challenges and realities we face while providing a route to a more prosperous future,” said McLaughlin in the budget address.

“In fact, the presentation of this budget is very much in line with our current times – presented virtually, but aware of the new obligations we all face today. Those new realities and challenges inform and shape in many ways the spending plan for the 2021 fiscal year, while still adhering to the core principles that have strengthened our county’s fiscal standing and provided a path to future prosperity,” continued McLaughlin.

Highlights of the 2021 Budget Proposal:

–           The 2021 budget proposal includes a slight spending reduction, from $353.1 million in 2020 to $349.5 million.

–           Rensselaer County has a perfect record of staying under the state tax cap since the tax cap was introduced one decade ago.

–           The budget was introduced after the county earned another in a series of positive independent audits, maintained strong bond ratings, and announced a third year of over $1 million in personnel savings.

–           The ER Anywhere telemedicine program introduced by County Executive McLaughlin to provide convenient access to medical service while controlling Medicaid expenses is expected to generate over $1.5 million in savings.

–           Following strong independent audit and $3 million in cost savings from bond refinancing, Acting Chief Fiscal Officer Mark Wojcik will be nominated for confirmation as Chief Fiscal Officer, McLaughlin announced.

–           The 2021 budget proposal includes funds to continue the county’s COVID-19 contact tracing effort, including members selected by Public Health Director Mary Fran Wachunas. Costs for the county contact tracing are expected to reach $800,000 before benefits.

–           The 2021 budget recognizes that state funding cuts and withholds have begun and are likely to continue during the coming year, creating additional difficulties for the county for mandated services.

–           The 2021 budget forecasts Medicaid expenses could reach the state cap for the county at $34 million, with mandates again claiming over 90 cents of each tax dollar.

–           County sales tax revenues saw highest growth in state in 2019, with revenues at $94.4 million, up from $89.9 million. The county is projected in 2020 to receive within several percent of the amount taken in during 2019.  The 2021 budget proposal estimates sales tax revenues for the coming year will be $88 million.

–           The county has paved a record number of miles of roads in 2020, exceeding the initial projection of 35 miles. That progress could be impeded by possible cuts in CHIPS funding, PAVE NY funds and Extreme Winter Response funds in 2021.

–           The proposed 2021 budget includes an average full market tax rate where a home valued at $150,000 would see a decrease in their tax bill of approximately $24. This rate could fluctuate based on equalization rates in individual municipalities.

“Rensselaer County has benefitted from an outstanding contact tracing unit in our Health Department. The team, which includes members from throughout the department, employs tried and true methods of tracking cases that date back decades to previous pandemics and outbreaks. Our contact tracing unit has provided the best tracking of cases in the region and possibly the state,” said McLaughlin.

“This is a budget very much drafted aware that we can expect the unexpected in 2021 in terms of state aid and revenue-sharing, whether the economic recovery continues and whether consumer confidence remains steady. Rensselaer County was surging before the outbreak of COVID-19, with our county showing the highest growth in sales tax revenue in the state, when equivalent rates were compared,” added McLaughlin.

The budget now goes to the County Legislature for review. Legislative review, including public hearings on the spending plan, will be held during October, November and early December with consideration in early December. A schedule of meetings and hearings by the Legislature will be announced by the Legislature.

“I am again hopeful we can reach a productive, mutual agreement on this budget, and recognize the priorities, opportunities and challenges facing this county in the year ahead,” said McLaughlin to legislators.

Copies of the budget proposal will be posted at the official county website, and the county’s Facebook page, Rensselaer County.