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Supervisors dipping into fund balance

Wednesday, December 04, 2013 - Updated: 8:24 AM

By HEATHER NELLIS

For the C-S-E

FONDA -- At a budget meeting Tuesday, the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors used roughly $1.5 million in fund balance to cut taxes for the tentative 2014 spending plan.

Instead of the average 2 percent tax increase proposed in Treasurer Shawn Bowerman’s plan, the supervisors’ actions will result in an average 3 percent decrease.

“It’s one of the most asinine things I’ve ever seen,” Bowerman said after the session. 

To be clear, Bowerman said he’s not opposed to easing the taxpayers’ burden. But, combined with the effects of other resolutions adopted Tuesday, and the $2.3 million he previously used in his tentative budget, it amounts to the use of $4 million in fund balance for the $101 million plan.

That’s non-recurring revenue, and its use creates what Bowerman described as a “hole” that will have to be made up in future budgets.

“It puts the county behind,” Bowerman said, adding it will be difficult to make it up in taxes in the future because of the state-imposed property tax cap.

The county was criticized in a recent audit by the state comptroller’s office for what was described as an over-reliance on fund balance in the county’s spending plans. Considering that audit, Bowerman said the supervisors’ actions were “totally irresponsible.”

Amsterdam 5th Ward Supervisor Michael Chiara put forth a resolution to use an additional $1 million in fund balance, but Florida town Supervisor William Strevy called to amend it to $1.5 million. 

Strevy cited the anticipated 4 percent tax increase in his township under Bowerman’s plan. Rates differ from municipality to municipality due to equalization rates. 

“This is my last year,” said Strevy, who did not seek re-election. “The people are expecting me to bring the lowest possible tax rate.”

“Assessing is not a county issue,” Bowerman said. “If anything, they should have just zeroed out any increase for the average county rate.”

The resolution was not unanimous. Amsterdam town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza and Minden Supervisor and District 2 Legislator-elect Thomas Quackenbush voted against it.

They cited the impact on future budgets for the new legislature and executive to be seated Jan. 1.

“I don’t want to start the legislature off with a broken leg,” DiMezza said.

Bowerman said the fund balance currently rests at approximately $7.3 million. If it doesn’t change by year’s end, that would leave about $3.3 million in the county’s coffers next year, but Bowerman said sales tax revenue is up, and he doesn’t expect the county will use everything appropriated for the current budget.

Executive-elect Matthew Ossenfort, who attended the meeting, said he wasn’t surprised by the board’s action.

“What we saw here tonight was the same we’ve seen in year’s past,” Ossenfort said. “But I’m not here to say they set us up in a way that’s for the better or worse -- we just have to deal with it.”

In other action during Tuesday’s session, the supervisors approved some new positions and position upgrades, including two new sheriff’s deputies, and a clerk for the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

Contracted amounts to the Office for Aging and Soil & Water Conservation District were also bolstered to honor the agencies’ requests in-full.

Not all departmental requests were honored, though. Sheriff Michael Amato requested software for the jail and civil office that would have added $211,000 to the general fund, but that resolution was defeated. 

A public hearing will take place on the budget at the board’s Dec. 17 meeting in the supervisors chambers, 64 Broadway, Fonda. It is anticipated the board will adopt the budget after the hearing.

     

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