OSWEGO — A draft 2022 Oswego County budget presented Wednesday afternoon would cut property tax rates by roughly 7 percent and reduce the overall tax levy by nearly 2 percent. 

The $215.9 million spending proposal would represent a slight increase in overall spending from the current $213 million budget, but asks taxpayers to pay roughly $860,000 less than the current year — $44.7 million compared to $45.57 million in 2021. The proposal comes after a nearly 3 percent tax rate decrease in the 2021 and several years of mostly flat tax rates. 

“We’re showing through the last couple years that we’re only trying to take from the taxpayers what we absolutely need to run government as they want and need,” said Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup, R-Central Square, when asked about the 2022 budget proposal. 

Oswego County Administrator Phil Church presented the 2022 draft spending plan Wednesday at a special meeting of the county Finance and Personnel Committee, and noted the budget, if approved without changes, would decrease the property tax levy and the generic tax rate while preserving all county services. According to budget documents provided by the county, the spending and revenue proposal does not rely on the use of any fund balance, or savings from previous budget years or reserve accounts. 

“This is third year in a row we’ve kept with our goal of using no general, unappropriated fund balance,” Church said Wednesday. “This is a budget right now that lives within its means. We don’t draw on our savings.” 

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Church said the county is in “good financial shape,” and noted “in 2022 (the county) will be debt free” after completing payments on an infrastructure project. 

If approved without changes, the county property tax rate would be $6.95 per $1,000 of assessed property value, down about 54 cents per $1,000 from the $7.48 per $1,000 in the current budget year. The $6.95 per $1,000 rate would equate to a $521 tax bill for a property valued at $75,000 and $695 for a property valued at $100,000, marking a roughly $40 to $55 savings, respectively, for such properties. Those totals do not include town, village, city or school taxes, and actual property tax rates can vary in each municipality based on a variety of factors. 

Asked for his initial reaction to the spending plan, Majority Leader Terry Wilbur, R-Hannibal, said being able to continue providing county services while lowering taxes is “a great thing.”  

“We’ve all rolled up our sleeves and this is a good start on this budget,” Wilbur said. “We’ve been doing our due diligence over the past year to keep spending in check and at this point we have a good start, but there are some things we have to address in it that will serve the public.” 

Wilbur, who is nearing the end of a more than decade-long run as a county legislator and likely moving into the role of county clerk next year, noted the county Legislature also has accomplished a number of the financial goals set in recent years, including not utilizing fund balance to supplement revenues. 

Legislator John Martino, R-Hastings, who chairs the county Finance and Personnel Committee, noted prior to the tax cuts in recent years, the county Legislature was able to “hold the line” and keep tax rates steady for nearly a decade. Martino pointed out legislators have looked to strike a comfortable balance between services offered and spending in recent years, and the proposed budget is a result of that. 

“Also during COVID, when we had a purchasing freeze and a hiring freeze, we learned a little bit,” Weatherup said. “We learned to look at everything.” 

Martino said that experience provided legislators and county department heads with a new perspective on spending. 

County lawmakers and officials are set to review the budget proposal over the next month-plus. Church pointed out a number of unsettled issues — including collective bargaining contracts and personnel decisions, potential replenishing of reserve funds, community college costs and the use of federal COVID-19 relief funds — that would need to be addressed prior to the adoption of the spending and revenue plan. 

The full Oswego County Legislature is likely to approve a final spending plan in December, after jurisdictional committees review the budget and propose potential amendments. 

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