Broome County’s 2018 budget was passed unanimously last Thursday, and County Executive Jason Garnar held a public hearing Tuesday to discuss the specific details and address community concerns.
Previously, all hearings regarding the county budget have been conducted solely by the county legislature. Garnar said he decided to conduct the hearing this year since he has the final say on whether or not the budget is passed.
“It’s important to always listen to what the public is thinking about,” Garnar said. “This is a very open process; really these public hearings are an opportunity for the public to officially comment on the record about what they feel about the budget.”
Garnar announced the county’s proposed budget in an address on Sept. 14, when he acknowledged the county’s financial problems and listed new initiatives including partnering with a local development organization, The Agency, to create a small business fund and increase funding for Broome Community College (BCC).
According to a report published in September 2016 by New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Broome County was one of five municipalities described as significantly fiscally stressed. At the end of 2016, Broome County had just $250,000 in its bank account, according to the Press & Sun-Bulletin.
Changes from last year’s budget include decreasing Garnar’s proposed property tax rate cap from 1.84 percent to 1.5 percent.
George Phillips, a Binghamton resident and the Southern Tier regional director for Reclaim New York, an organization that aims to empower New Yorkers through education and civic engagement, brought up government-mandated reform.
“We do believe that mandates drive up the cost of the budget, our governance here for Broome County and for towns as well,” Phillips said.
Other additions to next year’s budget include a 50-cent fare increase for BC Lift, an alternative service for those who can’t use the county’s bus routes, and a public health coordinator position to help combat the opioid epidemic.
Binghamton resident John Solak said he’s concerned about a particular allocation of money from the BCC Foundation and also expressed a general concern that Broome County does not use a zero-based budget, in which every function within an organization is examined according to its needs and costs.
Bob Weslar, county representative for District 13, which includes portions of Binghamton’s West Side and the First Ward, attended the hearing and although it was not mandatory for members of the legislature to attend, he thought that it was important that people are OK with the budget.
“The biggest issue has to do with making sure that it’s sound and tight and that people out there are getting a good bang for their buck and that we’re spending the people’s money well,” Weslar said.
Garnar can veto any changes made by the legislature until Nov. 19 but said the bill will likely pass as it is.
“There were so few changes that were made to the budget and fairly insignificant that the budget’s going to remain as is,” Garnar said. “I’m certainly not going to veto the budget.”