Supervisors confident they can "fix" budget


By David Avitabile

The head of Schoharie County's Finance Committee is confident that a series of meetings on the 2017 proposed tentative budget will result in a spending plan that will be acceptable to most people.
County Treasurer Bill Cherry disagrees and believes supervisors should start the budget process at the beginning.
The different approaches target the budget released last week by Administrator Steve Wilson, which Mr. Cherry said contains numerous mistakes.
Cobleskill Supervisor Leo McAllister, the head of the board's finance committee, cautioned supervisors Friday morning that Mr. Wilson's budget is only tentative, not final.
The finance committee will set up meetings through November with department heads and those budget areas will be discussed in detail and adjustments will be made, he said.
A proposed budget will be released in November before a public hearing.
"I'm confident that with the cooperat6ion of all of us, the board, the administrator, the department heads, we'll put together a budget we feel comfortable with," Mr. McAllister said.
Mr. McAllister's plan would be correct if the numbers in the tentative budget were, but they are not, Mr. Cherry warned.
Mr. Cherry has noted that the tentative budget incorrectly shows a decrease of $413,000 in the spending for the district attorney's office. That mistake alone will result in a tax rate hike of 11.81 percent, not 7.81 percent.
"The board has to know where the tentative budget puts them," Mr. Cherry warned.
"There should not be any dispute what the tax rate hike would be, assuming there are no other errors."
The tentative budget must be accurate, he added, so that supervisors know where to start when they make changes.
"How do you know unless you verify the starting point?" Mr. Cherry asked.
While meetings need to be held on the tentative budget, Mr. Cherry added, "I disagree that the tentative budget is a starting point."
Because of the errors in the tentative budget, "They basically have to start over."
Most of the spending lines in the plan are probably correct, Mr. Cherry said, but one or two simple errors can change the plan by millions of dollars.
In addition to the errors, Mr. Cherry pointed out that Mr. Wilson's budget increases spending by at least $4.2 million and includes two support staff for the administrator's office.
Since the county board took away his role as budget officer and gave it to the administrator, his only role now is to "point out what I know is an inaccuracy in the tentative budget."
It will be up to supervisors to determine whether Mr. Wilson is a competent budget officer or whether a change needs to be made.
Several supervisors backed Mr. McAllister's assessment about a next step.
"I am on board with what Leo said," Chris Tague of Schoharie said.
"He's the one we look to for the budgetary issues," and any other comments would be premature.
Board Chairman Earl VanWormer believed that Mr. McAllister's explanation was well said and was exactly the process the board should follow.
Phil Skowfoe of Fulton and Larry Bradt of Carlisle were less supportive.
"I don't feel the increases are stated properly," Mr. Skowfoe noted Friday afternoon.
There are a lot more increases in that budget than was presented, he added.
Mr. Bradt said he would have more comments after the October 29 finance committee meeting on the budget and it would be premature to comment further.
"We'll see where we stand after that."
He did add that what supervisors can do now is correct the mistakes that Mr. Cherry pointed out.
"The least we need to do is to correct the mathematical errors," such as the omissions in the DA's line.
Schoharie County residents will get their say at a public hearing on Monday, November 14 starting at 9pm in the supervisors' chambers.
Supervisors are expected to adopt a budget at their November 18 meeting.