County budget: Less of a tax hike, fewer layoffs look certain


By David Avitabile

County supervisors trimmed a tax increase to 1.8 percent but job losses total more than 30 in the latest version of the proposed 2012 Schoharie County budget.
Supervisors on the finance committee finished their work on the $59.7 million spending plan last Tuesday. The proposed budget will go before the full board at a special board meeting Friday at 5pm in the supervisors' chambers on the third floor of the county office building in Schoharie.
It is expected that the budget will be approved at that time so tax bills can go out on time in January.
Members of the finance committee ended up taking an additional $440,000 from the fund balance--money in reserve from past years--to lower the tax increase from eight to 1.8 percent, said Blenheim Supervisor Bob Mann, the chairman of the committee.
The amount used from the fund balance to offset taxes is now budgeted at $1,440,000.
The latest budget proposal still includes all of the layoffs and job eliminations, except one, in the tentative budget prepared by co-budget officers Paul Brady and Alicia Terry and added two more, Mr. Mann said.
Supervisors did not have to resort to an extensive job elimination list that targeted almost 80 county positions. The county work force totals less than 400.
The job elimination list still hits the jail staff hard with the facility still being closed but most jobs in the road patrol, emergency medical services and youth bureau were spared.
Several speakers at a public hearing on November 18 carried signs and spoke against any cuts for the road patrol and EMS.
The public hearing will still be open at the meeting on December 9.
In addition to the jobs eliminated in the tentative budget, the finance committee eliminated one clerk from the board of supervisors and a deputy county attorney, Mr. Mann said.
The finance committee restored the curator's position for the Old Stone Fort, which had been eliminated in the tentative budget. To offset the restoration, the committee eliminated $36,000 in funding to the historical society and dropped the custodian from full to part-time.
It was a very difficult budget to put together, Mr. Mann said.
"I'm not proud of this," he said Friday. "There are a lot of people who are going to be hurt.
"No one took this lightly. It was not easy. Everyone has things in there they don't like."
Some supervisors, he said, wanted more job cuts, some wanted to use more fund balance but "it's a good compromise."
Employees in the Fort and the Youth Bureau can feel safe because they may have survived cuts this year, but it may be difficult to maintain the positions in 2013 "unless something changes," Mr. Mann said.
The county's total of all taxable real property, which will drop for the second year in a row in 2012, could take an even bigger hit because of the homes damaged in the flood.
Some of the corrections jobs could be spared, at least temporarily, if the county agreed to sign a contract with FEMA to have the officers guard the FEMA trailers in Cobleskill, Mr. Mann said. The officers would be paid by FEMA, possibly for up to three months.
Though the future of the flood-damaged jail remains up in the air, the state still requires a workforce of guards.
The county has reduced the number of guards below the state requirements, but mandate relief is need, Mr. Mann said.
While popular, the two percent tax cap imposed by the state does not relieve the mandates put on the county, Mr. Mann said.
Without mandate relief, he said, in the near future, the only items left in the county budget will be mandated items.