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Rensselaer County Budget for 2021 by County Executive Steve McLaughlin Earns Unanimous Support from Legislature

Budget Includes Slight Tax Rate Decrease, Protects Services, Maintains County’s Fiscal Position and Encourages Growth and Investment

The Rensselaer County Legislature unanimously approved the 2021 budget introduced by County Executive Steve McLaughlin at a special meeting Monday, with the budget protecting taxpayers and needed services, while creating a foundation for recovery and new investment.

The 2021 budget holds the line on taxes, providing a small decrease in the tax rate. Each of the three budgets introduced by McLaughlin since his election as County Executive has included a small tax rate decrease.

Each of the budgets introduced by McLaughlin as County Executive have also earned unanimous support.

McLaughlin thanked members of the County Legislature for their support for the spending plan. The County Executive also gave credit to members of his fiscal team, department heads and county employees who met the challenge of the past year with efficiency, skill and hard work.

“The 2021 budget is a solid spending plan that protects taxpayers and needed county services during a challenging time, while also encouraging investment and job creation. My thanks to the County Legislature for their support for this budget and for showing unity as we move forward in uncertain times,” said McLaughlin.

“I especially appreciate legislators unanimously approving this spending plan. That sends an important message that the county is working together to face the challenges of the pandemic and set a course for recovery,” added McLaughlin.

“This budget and the unanimous approval the budget earned sends a strong message that Rensselaer County is an excellent place for job creation and investment for both businesses and homeowners,” said McLaughlin.

Chair of the Legislature Mike Stammel praised the budget as a solid spending plan that will help the county move into a new year while dealing with the outbreak. The budget was approved 17-0.

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.

–           The county also saw $3 million in cost savings from bond refinancing. McLaughlin credited Acting Chief Fiscal Officer Mark Wojcik with the effort, and nominated Wojcik for confirmation as CFO. The Legislature approved Wojcik as Chief Fiscal Officer earlier this month.

–           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 paved a record number of miles of roads in 2020, with 50 miles paved. The county is wary of possible cuts in CHiPs funding, PAVE NY funds and Extreme Winter Response funds in 2021.

–           Budget provides for work to continue on construction of new county emergency services training tower in North Greenbush.

–           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.

–           Few changes were made to the budget document following introduction by McLaughlin. One revision to budget restores $48,000 in funding to Cornell Cooperative Extension, made at suggestion of Majority Leader Ken Herrington, and Legislators Jeff Wysocki and Chuck Peter.

The budget approval followed two public hearings held following introduction of the spending plan in October. The budget is posted for review at www.rensco.com.

“Rensselaer County was seeing great success just before the onset of the pandemic. We are confident and optimistic we will get back to good times and this budget creates a foundation for future success,” said McLaughlin.

“We recognize that uncertain times are here and there will be many challenges in the months ahead. This is a budget that recognizes that new reality and responsibly provides for services that are even more needed, while avoiding gimmicks and other risks that can lead to fiscal problems,” added McLaughlin.