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Onondaga County Legislature passes budget still contingent on early retirement offers

Ellen Abbott
Onondaga County Legislature passes budget Tuesday.

The Onondaga County Legislature has approved a $1.3 billion budget for next year. The spending plan includes the lowest tax rate ever in Onondaga County, and lawmakers agreed on a water agency consolidation that will save money down the road. But lawsuits and early retirement offers hung over much of the budget decision.

Budget season began with the county looking at a $20 million hole because of increases in personnel costs and soft sales tax revenue, due to lower gas prices. To close it, lawmakers agreed to let the county offer early retirement packages to employees. Just how many employees take that deal won’t be known until the end of next week. So that’s ultimately going to determine the final numbers of the 2017 Onondaga County budget.

Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon says if the deficit is still there, the options are more belt tightening, dipping into savings, and finally layoffs. But it all depends on how many employees take the deal.

"It’s too early to tell, I think we’re getting close to our number. But we’re still a little short," said McMahon.

So as lawmakers contend with the possibility of a continued shortfall and layoffs next month, they are also under the cloud of a lawsuit brought by Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci, who claims lawmakers broke the law when they voted themselves a raise last year. So to deal with that, lawmakers approved a local law that cements pay rates for legislators and some elected officials starting in 2017, and includes raises in the future tied to the consumer price index. That’s the reason Manlius Legislator Kevin Holmquist voted against the budget.

“The fact that those raises are built upon a very shaky foundation of improper and soon to be illegal raises, we’ll find that out in nine days in court. But I don’t think its appropriate to vote for a budget that contains officials raises that were passed improperly,” said Holmquist.

Another tiff with the comptroller was resolved when lawmakers agreed to reinstate six positions in the county comptroller’s office, and move towards establishing a payroll unit in the personnel department.

"We felt that removing all those positions would probably hurt us on the back end with auditing. So we came up with a compromise that we think will work, and in the near future, we’ll hopefully have a payroll centered function in our personnel department that can send over reports for the comptroller to audit, so you have the checks and balances,” said McMahon.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.