By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO October 3, 2003 County Manager Dan Briggs presented the tentative 2004 Sullivan County Budget at the Legislatures Financial Management Committee meeting yesterday morning.
The budget calls for a 5 percent real property tax increase and several county layoffs.
This was an extremely difficult budget to not only prepare but submit for your consideration, Briggs stated. After much deliberation and careful analysis, a balance was reached between providing those services essential to controlled and diversified economic growth, and the ability to present manageable tax levels.
The tentative budget is $174,486,187. That is an increase of $13,204,181 over this years budget of $161,282,006.
Since the Legislature was created in 1996, there have been only two years with real property tax changes. In 1999, there was a two percent increase, followed by a three percent decrease in 2000.
Besides the 5 percent tax increase, a total of 19 positions (no specific positions were stated) would be eliminated. On top of that, another 13 positions would not be filled right away unless an urgent need arises. Plus, Briggs asked all contracting agencies to take a ten percent cut in county funding to their programs.
While there are several contributing factors to this situation, Briggs listed four in particular. There will be more than a $3 million increase in state-mandated Medicaid funding, raising the total to $17 million annually. Pension contributions are up more than $3 million as well, due, said Briggs, to a sluggish stock market. Health benefits costs have risen 18 percent, which equate to more than $1.5 million. Lastly, rising gas and oil costs will have unknown but likely expensive effects on the budget.
In many instances, we are rolling the dice with this budget when it is so razor-thin, Briggs said. Any major downturn of events can have far-reaching results. I would like to give a word of caution for future budgets, if I may. If escalating Medicaid costs are not brought under control by the New York State Legislature, I believe the consequences for next years budget and the future will be disastrous in terms of taxes, programs, and workforce. Counties can no longer afford unfunded New York State mandates, which are making this state, through its counties, the Cadillac of Medicaid havens.
While the county services provided are many, they still account for less than one-quarter of an individuals tax bill, Briggs continued. Be assured that we are continually striving to control expenses wherever possible through consolidation and merger of services, before suggesting the last measure of raising taxes or laying off of personnel.
We have a hard task ahead of us, stated Committee Chair Greg Goldstein. We have no control [over some expenses]. Without them, Sullivan County would be in a much better position. We have some hard decisions to make. I dont want to see an increase, but we have to keep it in control. This will not get easier. We have to bite the bullet and do what is right.
Goldstein cited possible tax hikes in other counties throughout the state. Broome may see taxes rise as much as 15 percent, while Chemungs will go up by 42 percent. Onondaga is looking at 9 percent, and Steuben will rise somewhere between 20 and 30 percent. Tioga is proposing 45 percent, and Tompkins may see a 26 percent increase. Lastly, Allegany County is looking at a tax increase of 55 percent.
District 4 Legislator Don Trotta suggested a moratorium on all spending. Goldstein said they would look at that, but meanwhile he asked all legislators to look over the budget for one week.
On Thursday, October 9, at 2 p.m., a special Financial Management Committee meeting will be called to further discuss the budget.