There is no question Chemung County, like all counties in New York, faces very serious fiscal impacts from COVID-19 and the “New York Pause” program created to respond to the virus.
Local officials in Chemung County, including Chemung County Treasurer Jennifer Furman and Chemung County Budget Director Steve Hoover, are working very hard to formulate a plan to responsibly deal with the economic fallout caused by plummeting sales and room tax, reductions in state and federal aide, and the potential for increased expenditures related to the virus. As anyone with any familiarity of county government can appreciate, attempting to addresses these shortfalls while also trying to avoid property tax increases and large numbers of county lay-offs or furloughs, continuing to share sales tax revenue with the towns, villages and City of Elmira, and maintaining a reasonable fund balance is a very tall task.
The New York Association of Counties (NYSAC) authored a startling report last week on what may be coming for county finances – and it’s not pretty. A full copy of the report is embedded below:
Four primary areas of concern
NYSAC has identified four primary stresses county governments will likely face this year due to COVID-19 and New York’s response:
Potential impact on sales tax revenue for counties
The majority of counties in New York use most (or all) of the money they collect through property taxes plus a portion of the money they collect through sales tax to pay for programs and services that are required – but not funded – by Albany. These expenditures are often called “unfunded mandates.”
As such, sales tax revenue is critical for covering all other county expenditures. In addition, most counties, including Chemung County, have opted to enter into agreements through which a portion of the county’s sales tax revenue is shared with other municipalities within its borders to help them meet their needs and avoid undue municipal tax increases.
However, COVID-19 and New York’s response to the virus are having a tremendous impact on sales tax revenue and NYSAC’s projections for the rest of the year are equally concerning.
High rate of unemployment
The start of reopening in the Southern Tier Region, where Chemung County is located, should help slow the rate of new unemployment claims in Chemung County. However, it will take several months to see how quickly jobs come back:
NYSAC ended its report with what counties should expect if we face a milder recession compared to what would happen under a severe recession. (The full lists are provided in the report itself. I just clipped out the top because they are quite long.)
Information from the Chemung County Treasurer
This afternoon Chemung County Treasurer Jennifer Furman provided a financial update to the Legislature. Although the report primarily looks at 2019 finances, Treasurer Furman provided a preliminary analysis of the potential impacts for our community beginning on page 5:
Chemung County was on its way toward an economic and cultural revival before COVID-19 got in the way. We still have tremendous potential for great things to happen, but the road to get there has become a little tougher to navigate. It is important for all of us to understand the magnitude of what we may face so that we can work together to find the best solutions for our community.