Supervisors OK budget with 2.59 percent tax hike


By Patsy Nicosia

Supervisors’ Finance Committee carved about $228,000 out of their tentative $91.3 million budget and then Sheriff Ron Stevens came in with another $310,000 in staffing reductions at the new jail to bring the tax levy increase in at 2.52 percent, just under the tax cap of 2.59 percent.
“If you want a budget under the tax cap, this will do it,” Administrator Steve Wilson told supervisors at a public hearing on the budget Tuesday. “Take it home and digest it…”
By Friday, they had, with only Fulton Supervisor Phil Skowfoe voting against it, not convinced it includes enough for raises in any CSEA contract.
Before the cuts, the budget would have increased taxes 3.9 percent.
And even with the cuts identified by the Finance Committee, the increase would have been 2.87 percent--still over the tax cap, Mr. Wilson said.
But after a series of discussions with the Commission on Corrections and by coming up with a plan to “double-duty” his Road Patrol for jail transports, Mr. Wilson said, Sheriff Stevens was able to cut the number of positions at the new jail by five, from 47 to 42--36 of them corrections officers--for the $310,000 savings.
Other cuts include about $18,812 in savings in the Department of Social Services for a half-dozen vacant positions that will start at a lower salary “step” when filled, and $950 in Health Department savings--money for training for the Medical Reserve Corps that will instead come from a reserve fund.
Additional savings will come for a fulltime planner—a job that won’t be filled until July 1—if even then.
Supervisors envision the position as someone who’ll work with towns and villages and SEEC on pieces of the Fairweather Report and Mr. Wilson called it “critical.”
But if they don’t find the right person, Finance Committee Chair Leo McAllister said, they won’t fill it.
Also eliminated was $30,000 to double Mr. Fairweather’s line, something Mr. Wilson said Mr. Fairweather said wasn’t necessary.
Other Finance Committee adjustments added about $234,100 back to the budget with the final figure $22,620,000 for a 2.52 percent increase.
Those additions include marking a forest for harvest in the Town of Conesville, $19,577 for IT to help towns and village with cyber attacks--money that was initially cut, but then put back--$43,278 for jail medical services and $55,000 for Indigent Legal Services.
The budget is $13,000 under tax cap and uses $2.7 million from fund balance from “surplus” realized in 2018; $150,000 from a road fund and $35,000 from O-Tax reserves that will fund the new tourism program.
Even with that $2.7 million from the fund balance, Mr. Wilson estimated $14 million will remain in the fund balance at the end of 2020 with $4 million of that “unassigned” and available for the jail and streambank.
Addressing Mr. Skowfoe’s concerns, Mr. McAllister said there’s money in a contingency fund and the fund balance for any raises.
That’s only a short-term solution, Mr. Skowfoe argued and it doesn’t take into account back pay; both Mr. McAllsiter and Blenheim Supervisor Don Airey said they don’t want to go over the tax cap.
“I think we should base the budget on what we know,” Mr. Airey said.
“And $13,000 isn’t going to do much for salaries,” Mr. McAllister said, adding, “It’s not going to get any easier in the next few years. That’s why we need to focus on economic development.”