Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell presented a $165.3 million proposed 2020 county budget to the Legislature Thursday at the Putnam County Golf Course in Mahopac.
The budget, which is within the New York State tax cap, represents a $5.9 million or 3.7 percent spending increase over the 2019 budget and reflects the conservative spending that has been the hallmark of Odell’s tenure.
Just last month, Moody’s Investor Services upgraded Putnam’s bond rating to Aa1, citing the county’s disciplined budgeting approach. As a result of the superior rating, the county just issued $3.3 million in refunding bonds, saving taxpayers $151,000.
“It should be noted that Aa1 is a designation only five out of 62 counties in the state have achieved,” Odell told the crowd of more than 150 that attended the public meeting. “And that’s something that the Legislature and the administration and, of course, the employees who deliver services every day should be very proud of.”
Since Odell took office in 2011, the county has reduced long-term debt by $24.4 million or 28 percent and eliminated short-term debt entirely.
The average Putnam County homeowner, whose property is assessed at $302,000, would pay about $1,082 in county taxes under the proposed 2020 budget.
“We look forward to working together to craft a budget that is fair to Putnam County residents, taxpayers and employees,” Joseph Castellano, chairman of the Legislature, said. “The Legislature will scrutinize the proposed budget as closely as we watch spending all year long, while still supporting the programs and services that make Putnam such a great place to live. Together, we will make sure that even the most difficult decisions are the right decisions.”
There are six categories of spending in the county budget, $113 million of which is mandated and $51.7 million discretionary.
Quality of life initiatives would be funded with $9.1 million under the plan. This includes parks and recreation; the youth bureau; and outside agencies like libraries and Putnam County SPCA, Putnam Arts Society, the Southeast Museum, Putnam County Fish and Game, Cornell Cooperative Extension and Putnam CAP.
Infrastructure is budgeted at $12.1 million, and includes senior transportation; road and bridge maintenance; and investment in new projects in every corner of the county, from the Maybrook bikeway to Farmers Mills Road bridge and more.
Heath and education services would be funded at $25.1 million, which includes the Health Department; solid waste and recycling; and $10.6 million for early intervention and pre-kindergarten for young children with special needs and $3.2 million for community college costs.
Public safety is budgeted for $37.9 million, which covers the Sheriff’s Department; the jail; and the Bureau of Emergency Services.
Economic assistance and promotions are budgeted at $38.8 million, including $9.6 million for Medicaid, a mandated program that is the single largest line item in the budget; the Economic Development Corporation; the Industrial Development Agency and the new Putnam County Tourism Department.
General government support would be budgeted at $42.3 million and cover medical benefits for employees and retirees; county departments and support services, such as the Board of Elections, which required a 20 percent increase in order to provide mandated early voting; and debt service among other costs.
Odell noted that overall health insurance costs for active employees and retirees increased by $1.3 million, which is more than the entire state tax cap.
“For 2020, the tax cap allows us to raise the tax levy up to $1.2 million,” Odell said. “Before we even started, one line-item – employee and retiree health insurance — blew our cap.”
In Odell’s eight years in office, the county has never exceeded the property tax cap and this year is no different. Increased revenue keeps the proposed budget within the cap.
Sales tax would be the largest contributor to the revenue side, at $64.4 million or 39 percent of revenue. Property taxes will make up only $44.6 million or 27 percent. State and Federal reimbursements will bring in up $30.2 million or 18 percent, while revenue generated by county departments is expected to reach $23 million or 14 percent of the budget. The budget would use $3.1 million of the general fund balance.
“This budget checks all the boxes,” Odell said. “It does deliver the quality of life services, it provides the mandated services, keeps Putnam healthy, maintains a fiscally responsible vision and meets the needs of our retirees, the department heads and the employees who show up every day and do their best for the county. I am grateful for the hard work and support of the Legislature and look forward to working together on a shared vision of the future.”