Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo unveiled a $1.2 billion budget on Tuesday. She says for the second straight year, the spending plan holds the county property tax rate flat at $8.99 per $1,000 of assessed value. Dinolfo also says the budget holds overall spending growth to 1.3 percent, well below the rate of inflation.
And the county executive says her 2018 budget plan reduces the two-year forecasted structural deficit by $8.2 million to $36.4 million.
Dinolfo says that about 43 percent (or $500 million) of the budget will go toward family and children services, like childcare or beefing up the staff at Child Protective Services. Dinolfo said she plans to bring on roughly 50 people into CPS, filling 25 previous vacancies and creating 30 new positions. It’s part of her 8-part plan to improve the service and an overall goal to strengthen and support local families.
CPS was scrutinized last year after the death of 3-year-old Brook Stagles. She died after a fatal blow to the abdomen from her father’s girlfriend, Erica Bell. Bell was recently convicted for her murder. During the trial, there were reports that two complaints had been made to CPS about abuse in the household but CPS took no apparent immediate action. Her death prompted county officials to re-evaluate case loads and resources. In the county legislature, there was even a push to legally restrict how many cases a CPS employee can take on.
“Starting last year back in the beginning of 2016, we started to immediately fill vacancies," said Dinolfo. "Under the 2018 plan, not only are we funding an additional 30 positions to bring staffing to above 2010 levels, we’re also increasing salaries for CPS workers, which will help us retain current workers and attract new ones.”
Dinolfo said she’ll also target the opioid epidemic with the budget. Last year, 169 people died of opioid overdoses. This caused a stain on local toxicologists because a full report can take up to six months to complete. To relieve that burden, the county will hire two more toxicologists.
“In addition to the widespread damage that the crisis is doing on our streets, heroin and opioid overdoses are taxing toxicology reporting systems across the nation, “ she said. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen the national trend reflected in a surge in post-mortem cases handled by the Monroe County Medical Examiners’ Office.”
But Dinolfo said she’s doing what she can considering most of the budget is already decided. Roughly 85 percent of the budget is earmarked for mandatory spending on county services and programs.
“85 percent of a budget is a significant number,” she said. “If you think about your own family, if every dollar that you had, 85 cents went somewhere else and you could only control 15 that’s quite difficult. And so this is a problem that not only Monroe County faces, but counties throughout the state as well.”
The county executive says that when state and federal initiatives are passed, sometimes the buck is passed to local municipalities. Dinolfo used Raise the Age as an example. The new law goes into effect next year and keeps 16- and 17-year-old offenders from being tried in adult criminal court but Dinolfo says over the next few months, the county will work out how to fund the change.
“So when we look at mandated spending all we’re asking is for the state to look at the programs it requires, take a look at how it’s spending and take a look at what they’re pushing down onto the counties as well,” she said. “We’re doing our very best to control our spending.”
Dinolfo said she plans to push for mandatory spending reform to get state and federal officials to fund the programs and legislation they push for. She doesn't have an exact number of the percentage of mandatory spending she wants in the budget. Dinolfo submitted the budget Tuesday evening to the county legislature.