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Dinolfo releases her 2018 budget


County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo's 2018 budget is a bit of a knuckleball.

Every year for the past several, as Dinolfo and her predecessor, Maggie Brooks, have prepared to release their budgets, advocates would ramp up efforts to pressure the execs into boosting funding for programs that help vulnerable children. Child care funding has been a big one. And just yesterday, those advocates publicly asked Dinolfo to restore $1.7 million cut since 2014 from  programs that have have been proven to reduce child abuse and neglect.

Dinolfo's budget, released this morning, does just that; the funding will go toward several preventive services, including the Nurse-Family Partnership and Parents as Teachers home visitation programs. It also includes a $1.6 million increase in funding for child day care subsidies, covered almost entirely by a state grant. And it funds a plan to enhance Child Protective Services that includes filling all vacant caseworker positions in the department, hiring 30 additional caseworkers on top of that, and increasing caseworker salaries to help attract and retain employees. That plan also includes a mentoring program, technology updates, and reinstating a local child abuse and neglect reporting hotline.

The budget also keeps the tax rate flat at $8.99 per $1,000 assessed value and doesn't add any new "below the line" fees or chargebacks to tax bills, according to Dinolfo.

The 2018 budget is "a blueprint for an even better Monroe County," Dinolfo said during a press conference this morning announcing the proposal.  The County Legislature will review the budget over the coming weeks and will likely vote on the plan at its December 12 meeting.

Dinolfo explained that the county found the money for these efforts by evaluating its operations from top to bottom, streamlining services and finding efficiencies, and identifying "sustainable savings." The only savings she specifically mentioned were from the elimination of a few quasi-governmental local development corporations. The county is saving approximately $2 million this year by bringing their functions back in-house, Dinolfo said.

As county officials renegotiate union contracts, they've been asking the employees to shoulder more of their health care costs, too.

Dinolfo  hit on some familiar topics in her speech. The state needs to stop passing down so many costs to the county, which in turn burdens local property taxpayers, she said. And she stressed the importance of county economic development and job training programs.

She also said the budget funds two new toxicologist positions in the medical examiners office to help speed up reporting. The heroin and opioid epidemic is overwhelming toxicology reporting systems across the country and Monroe County's is no exception, she said.

The budget also funds a new program to help first-time home-buyers purchase and renovate vacant and zombie properties. The program will help provide affordable financing to the buyers and will also have a component to help workers learn skills through on-the-job training.

She presented the budget at ABVI because the county partners with the agency on several programs, and next year the two organizations will work together to start the Excel Center, Dinolfo said. The five-year demonstration project will offer adults who dropped out of school a tuition-free post-secondary education and diploma, as well as training to earn an industry-recognized certificate. Goodwill has opened several of the centers across the country, and the concept started in Indianapolis.

The program provides an opportunity for people to gain employment and build successful careers, which will help their families have better lives for generations to come, Dinolfo said.