County tax hike three percent?


By David Avitabile

Schoharie County supervisors have cut more than $560,000 in spending from the proposed 2011 county budget to lower the projected average tax rate hike to slightly under three percent.
The latest version of the $73.4 million budget lowers the tax rate in six towns and increases the rates in 10.
The first proposed budget released last month showed an average tax rate increase of about five percent.
The actual amount to be raised by taxes in the county is up by $313,000 or 1.78 percent in the current version but the tax rate increase is higher because of a sharp drop in property value in the county. The proposed tax levy for next year stands at $17.89 million. The current levy is $17.57 million.
The full value of all taxable real property in the county showed a decline from $2.3 billion to $2.28 billion.
Currently, the tax rates would go down in the towns of Broome, Cobleskill, Conesville, Fulton, Jefferson and Summit.
The largest decrease would be a drop of 42.7 percent in Conesville. The second biggest decrease would be a drop of 4.6 percent in Cobleskill.
The other towns in the county would see increases ranging from a half percent hike in Richmondville to 5.6 percent in Esperance. The rates would climb by 5.5 percent in both Schoharie and Wright.
The average tax rate in the county could rise from $7.64 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $7.85 per $1,000.
Supervisors reviewed the budget at a public hearing on Monday morning. There were 13 people at the hearing, all but four of whom were county employees or representatives. Only one person spoke at the hearing.
Before the hearing, Finance Committee Chairman Harold Vroman, of Summit, said his committee has been busy meeting with department heads in an effort to cut spending.
There will be 17 fewer full-time positions in the county next year, he said, mostly because of the sale of the certified home health care agency to HCR.
Since 2009, he added, the number of full-time employees has dropped from 401 to 364 while the number of part-time workers has declined from 83 to 76.
For next year, there are requests to add a full-time employee in the Sheriff’s office and part-timers in the social services department and in the Youth Bureau.
Employee benefits, especially the state retirement costs and health insurance, continue to rise.
State retirement and health insurance costs are up by more than $1.23 million this year, Mr. Vroman said.
County officials, Middleburgh Supervisor Dennis Richards said, have done a good job anticipating problems and need to for next year when federal stimulus money will disappear and costs, especially state retirement, continue to rise.
“We’re in a good position. We need to be prepared for next year,” Mr. Richards said.
“We’re trying to hold the line on spending,” Mr. Vroman said.
In all, the finance committee cut $560,317 in spending while anticipated revenue for next year fell by $115,252.
Among the cuts proposed by the finance committee were: not adding an office worker for the fire coordinator’s office; not adding a buildings and grounds supervisor for public works; not buying a new vehicle for the emergency medical department; and not adding an account clerk typist for the public health department.
There were several other cuts in public health being of the pending sale of the certified home health care agency to HCR later this year.
The sale price, $315,000, has been added as revenue for 2011 and at least six nurse and several other positions have been cut out of the budget.
Mr. Vroman said that the sale will allow the county to disperse some health department vehicles to other departments.
Supervisors and the board chairman are not scheduled for a pay increase for next year, while department heads will be getting one percent salary hikes.
The only resident to speak at the hearing was Earl Gaskill of Summit.
He said there is $71,550 in the budget for office supplies and that is too high.
He also noted there is $289,000 in the plan for overtime, $59,950 for travel and $12,250 for miscellaneous.
“I don’t accept that at all,” he said.
The public hearing on the budget was kept open through the board’s meeting on Friday, November 19.
Supervisors are expected to resume budget deliberations that day and could adopt the spending plan at that meeting.