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Dinolfo budget leaves tax rate unchanged 

County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo's first budget proposal is about what was expected: the $1.2 billion plan keeps the county tax rate flat at $8.99 per $1,000 of assessed property value. When Dinolfo ran for county exec last year, she promised to freeze the rate — a practice also followed by her predecessor, Maggie Brooks.

That commitment was the driving factor in the preparation of the budget, Dinolfo told legislators when she presented her proposal last night.

Dinolfo's proposal also keeps county funding for child care subsidies essentially flat; the county would add around $100,000 in 2017, bringing its contribution to $5.6 million. But that's one-tenth of the $1 million increase children's advocates and Democratic county legislators requested. Dinolfo reiterated that Monroe County is required by the state to pay more for child care subsidies than Erie, Onondaga, Albany, and Nassau counties combined. And she said she'd work with child advocates to push for more state and federal child care funding.

Dinolfo's proposal breaks from the Brooks budgets in two important ways.

Her plan recognizes approximately $3.4 million in savings from the elimination of three local development corporations. The county formed the LDC's to take on a specific task: one operates a power plant, another upgraded and oversees the public safety communications systems, and the third handles computer and office equipment upgrades.

Dinolfo campaigned last year on dissolving the LDC's, which would put the county in charge of those operations once again. She took the position as four men, including Brooks's husband, Robert Wiesner, pleaded guilty to bid-rigging charges related to two of the three LDC's. (Dinolfo's budget proposal also includes $404,000 for the county's newly-created Office of Public Integrity, which she pushed for in response to the LDC cases.)

But the assertion that getting rid of LDC's saves money implies that they aren't the cost-savers they were made out to be by Brooks. Dinolfo said that the LDC's were each paying legal, banking, and management fees for similar services. The county is also saving money by consolidating the debts of the three LDC's, she says. It will put some of the savings aside for future projects and purchases, so it's not borrowing as much, she said.

LDC critics have argued for years that the independent, quasi-governmental entities don't live up to the hype. But Brooks pushed back hard — calling LDC's innovative public-private partnerships that make government more efficient.

The other change deals with how the budget is structured. During the Brooks years, it was split up into an operating budget and a grants budget; one dealt with money coming from county tax, fee, and service charges, and the other with state and federal grant funds. Dinolfo implemented what she calls "Truth in Budgeting," by combining the operating and grants budgets once again, which she says better reflects county spending practices.

Legislature Democrats said they will thoroughly vet the budget proposal.

"If you follow the annual budget process, each year we are told that they are holding the line on taxes and often that there are no new fees and chargebacks for county services," Minority Leader Cynthia Kaleh said in a statement. "Yet, if you look at your tax bills since 2008, you are paying more and more each year.  At first glance, this budget seems to be more of the same and continues to follow that habit."

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