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No layoffs predicted in first version of ’13 county budget

Thursday, October 04, 2012 - Updated: 9:10 AM

By HEATHER NELLIS

For the C-S-E

FONDA — Despite a projected $4 million shortfall, Montgomery County Treasurer Shawn Bower-man released a $92 million preliminary 2013 budget on Monday that doesn’t include any employee layoffs.

Instead, the gap was bridged with estimated increases in revenues from sales tax and boarding at the county jail, the use of more than $1 million in reserves, and a 3 percent average increase in taxes.

The tax increase is within the confines of the state-imposed property tax cap, as Bowerman’s plan is required to be. The Board of Supervisors, as the legislative body, is the only authority with the ability override the cap.

The proposal will serve as the basis of the board’s upcoming budget process. It was distributed to the supervisors Monday morning.

There isn’t any funding in Bowerman’s plan for “outside agencies” like the Office for Aging and the Cornell Cooperative Extension, and he reduced the Soil and Water Conservation District’s funding by $37,000.

He said department requests for new positions and new vehicles were not honored, and some departments saw reductions in part-time allowances and overtime funding.

The plan is approximately $153,000 more than the current budget, despite an anticipated $800,000 increase in retirement contributions.

The treasurer said Monday he used some of the recommendations the Board of Supervisors crafted during a series of four budget workshops in September, but didn’t use their recommended staff cuts.

“Based on the workshops, I got the feeling there wasn’t a consensus about eliminating positions,” Bowerman said. “Some were vocal about cutting, others were skeptical, and they approved cutting ‘this one’ and ‘that one’ and not others.”

Bowerman said he also considered past practice of the board, noting supervisors’ tendency to restore his recommended cuts.

“So I took the stance that if they’re serious about eliminating the positions, they’ll have to pass resolutions to do it,” he said.

Board Chairman and Charleston Supervisor Shayne Walters agreed with Bowerman’s assessment of last month’s budget workshops. He said he was glad the proposal didn’t include any staff cuts.

“It wouldn’t have done [Bowerman] any good to do that. He would have just had fingers pointed at him, and the staff would have been put back in anyway,” Walters said.

Amsterdam 1st Ward Supervisor Vito “Butch” Greco said he plans to go over the proposal with Bowerman today, but after a cursory review, said he was pleased with Bowerman’s effort.

“I have a lot of confidence in Shawn, the Finance Committee, and the Board of Supervisors that the taxpayers will be happy. We’ll do everything we can to save the employees. I don’t like the thought of having to let 30 to 40 people go. If there is any erasing, overwriting, or substitutions, the one thing I’m positive of is the budget will not exceed the tax cap.”

If anything, Walters thinks more fund balance will be used. He doubts the board would eliminate the Office for Aging and Cornell Cooperative Extension from the budget, and further doubts the funding decreases proposed for the Soil and Water Conservation District will be realized.

“I’ve been pretty vocal about public services, and when you cut the budget, you’re cutting the services to the people paying the taxes,” he said. “It’s not beneficial for us to cut Soil and Water. The county uses it continually for everything under the sun, and to reduce their funding would be too much a slap in the face to the farmers and landowners.”

Bowerman recommended the use of $1.34 million in fund balance, which would leave the county with $3.8 million in its rainy day fund.

“Going forward, I’m not going to say 2014 or 2015 will bring the day of reckoning, but we just need to keep tightening where we can,” he said.

Greco said he doesn’t want to see any fund balance used.

“We need to put everything in proper perspective for our future,” he said. “We need to start looking at three-to-five year plans.”

“Some supervisors say we have a hole in our budget when they talk about using fund balance. But we’ve been using fund balance long enough now, it’s no longer a hole, it’s just the way we do our budget,” Walters said.

Bowerman said the board’s recent vote to switch the health insurance of eligible retirees to a Medicare Advantage Plan last week is the “only move the board has made this year to reign in anything.”

Benetech, the county’s health insurance consultant, has estimated that switch will generate $470,000 in savings, with approximately 70 percent of that realized by the county.

Bowerman said he reduced the county’s health insurance expenditures by $150,000 in his proposed plan.

“I don’t know if we can take it to the bank next year — we’ll have to see where it comes out, and make an adjustment for 2014,” he said. “The numbers for the estimated savings are flying all over the place, from $100,000 to $600,000. Until we actually go through a cycle, I can’t tell what the savings are going to be.”

     

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