ANGOLA — The Steuben County Council is gearing up for its annual budget writing season with austere predictions for spending in 2020.
The advice being given the council from its financial advisor is one that is calling for flat to reduced spending.
“Basically they’re telling us not to spend any more than we currently are,” said Rick Shipe, president of the Steuben County Council.
During their meeting Tuesday, Council members discussed a variety of issues as they head toward budget season.
“I’m optimistically reserved,” Shipe said.
Shipe’s optimism might play out well in light of recent assessment figures provided by Assessor Kim Anderson.
“Steuben County as a whole, overall saw an average 5.9% increase; some areas more and some less,” Anderson said in an email.
“We have seen areas such as Salem Township, Hamilton and Lake George with increases and have been fielding several phone calls from these areas, just to name a few,” Anderson said. New assessments were sent out to taxpayers in May, which always brings a flurry of activity to the Assessor’s Office, mainly from people who might want to contest their assessments as too high.
“I know a lot of people who saw their assessments go up quite a bit,” said Shipe, who lives in Salem Township.
New assessments that recently were sent out were based on sales during calendar year 2018. Assessments are tied to market values.
Shipe said the information Peters Municipal Consultants, Franklin, the county’s financial advisor, provides is only as good as what is provided to them. Shipe indicated that information used by Peters might have been from prior to new assessments being calculated.
“We still haven’t been able to see those dollars in our budget yet,” Shipe said. “It might be a year before we see those dollars.”
That’s basically because the data tends to run a year behind while the county, though working on an annual budget, in reality does its budgeting for 18 months.
“Right now we’re optimistic going into this year,” Shipe said.
One of the big problems that has faced the county for years is wages, particularly with the Steuben County Sheriff’s Department. The benefits provided by the county, which are considered excellent, are often overlooked by younger officers, the new hires who are more concerned with wages, which tend to be higher in neighboring counties.
Sheriff R.J. Robinson has for the past couple months been providing the council with information from other counties, some of which are Steuben’s neighbors, to give comparisons on wages.
Meanwhile, when it comes to new assessments, Anderson said one of the complicating factors has been inaccurate or incomplete information being spread on social media. For example, some people claim on social media that the only way to appeal assessments is to get an appraisal. There are tools on the county’s real estate information website that allows the assessor to generate comparable data on sales — similar to what is used by appraisers — to provide accurate information on assessments.
“Social media has added another layer of contact over the past few years,” Anderson said. “I’ve tried to respond to negative comments or opinions that an appraisal is the only way to fight the assessment. Talk to us first.”
An independent tax review board will actually review assessments that are contested.
By and large, Anderson said, people contacting her office have been understanding.
“Overall, everyone has been great. It’s always a shock to get these in the mail when your value has seen an increase, it takes a few minutes to review; sometimes with answers and sometimes with the recommendation to lock-in the appeal so we can look into things further. The goal is to make sure the parcel is accurately assessed,” Anderson said.
On Monday, starting at 8:30 a.m., the Steuben County Board of Commissioners will start looking at budget requests from the departments under their control.
The County Council starts its budget work with first reading of 2020 proposed budgets on Aug. 20 at 8 a.m.
Budget meetings will be held on Sept. 4-6 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with the Sept. 6 session only if necessary.
Final adoption of the 202 budget will be on Sept. 10.