By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO October 4, 2002 Since September 11, 2001, the economy in New York State has taken a decided downturn. As the state and federal government funneled funds to fix and repair New York City, monies for other programs came up short.
For the 2002-2003 fiscal year alone, the state is facing a $6.9 billion budget gap. The state is also estimating it will use $2.5 billion in reserve funds this year.
All of this and more added to the daunting task facing the Sullivan County Legislature a few months ago as they began to prepare the county budget for 2003. Added to this was a substantial increase in Medicaid costs for 2003.
The budget was presented publicly for the first time at the Legislatures Financial Management Committee meeting Tuesday. County Manager Dan Briggs said the proposed 2003 budget is $177,709,271, a less-than-1 percent decrease from last years budget of $178,591,578. There will be no real property tax increase.
The tax levy will remain at $29,643,835, resulting in no real property tax increase, Briggs told those in attendance for the meeting. However, this was not easily accomplished, and I would like to take a few moments to explain how this was achieved.
This is a budget that carefully balances the need to stabilize real property taxes, yet to provide the services vital to an economic landscape poised for growth, he explained. To achieve a zero percent increase in real property taxes, we had to appropriate $10,326,406 from our fund balance. While using the fund balance to effect this zero percent, we felt it prudent under the totality of circumstances and with the growth we are experiencing.
Briggs went on to propose a three-quarters of a percent sales tax increase. That would raise Sullivan County sales tax from 7 percent to 7 3/4 percent. Briggs estimated that increase would generate $4.5 million a year and would help finance such future projects as the proposed fire training facility and a new and expanded county jail, estimated at $60 million. (That matter will be discussed at the next Financial Management Committee meeting on Thursday, November 7.)
I am against the sales tax increase, commented Financial Management Committee Chair Kathleen LaBuda. We have $5 million in our capital accounts. We have not even decided on property for the new jail yet. For now, we have adequate funding.
The legislators thanked Briggs and Financial Management Administration Commissioner Richard LaCondré for their work on the budget, but LaBuda stated that she felt more cutting could be done, and they would continue to look at the budget.
It is a good budget, LaCondré stated. We had to take into consideration rising expenditures while revenues remained flat. [The proposed sales tax increase is] necessary given the fact revenue is flat and expenditures will not stop growing. Over the next two years, something will have to be done sooner or later.
Two public hearings on the budget will be scheduled shortly. The budget must be passed by the end of the year.