By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO November 18, 2003 The Sullivan County Legislature, knowing the 2004 budget would be tough, started the process early this year. After nearly 11 months, it appears that the county has a budget for 2004 and will pass it shortly.
The final tweaking of the budget took place Thursday at a reconvened meeting of the Financial Management Committee. Committee Chair Greg Goldstein announced some new revenue streams to offset rising costs and checked with each legislator to make sure that they were all comfortable with the 2004 budget.
The county is facing rising costs in Medicaid, health insurance, and the Retirement Fund.
First and foremost, there will be no layoffs. However, there will be a quarter-percent increase in the mortgage tax. That will bring it to one percent, which is comparable to other counties. It is the first raise in the tax in many years. Goldstein stated it could generate between $500,000 and $700,000 for the county next year.
Another revenue stream will come from Off-Track Betting at Monticello Raceway. Those estimated revenues are between $300,000 and $500,000.
Another rising cost in the budget has to do with changes in the charges of 18B counsel. That is when a defendant cannot afford an attorney and the court assigns them a lawyer. In the past, attorneys were paid between $25 and $40 per client. The state recently raised the per diem rate to $75 per client.
Anticipating much higher costs, the county will set aside $400,000 to establish a Public Defenders Office. The county currently spends approximately $400,000 on 18B coverage. With the increase, County Manager Dan Briggs thinks that figure could double. Thus, they are creating the Public Defenders Office.
This is a very tight budget, Goldstein commented. There are no layoffs. I think we have done a good job. This has been a team effort.
It was also announced that the funding to contracted agencies was restored to 2003 levels (in the original proposed 2004 budget, they were all cut by 10 percent). Plus, there will be a five percent real property tax increase.
Goldstein asked each lawmaker to express their concerns and thoughts.
This is a bare bones budget, remarked District 8 Legislator Bob Kunis. There are no layoffs. I have trouble supporting a tax increase.
I wish it was a smaller tax increase, stated District 6 Legislator Jodi Goodman. This is going to kick us in the ass the following year.
I think five percent is steep, District 9 Legislator Jim Carnell Jr. said. But we have no other choice.
We have covered most of the bases, District 5 Legislator Rodney Gaebel commented. I do not like a tax increase. I support this budget. I commend the staff. It was a tough year.
I am for it, remarked District 8 Legislator Don Trotta. What was done took guts.
We have a tough future, stated District 1 Legislator Chris Cunningham. There were not a whole lot of options.
We are sure there is nowhere else to cut? asked District 2 Legislator Kathleen LaBuda. If everyone is comfortable, then so am I.
A special meeting of the Financial Management Committee has been called for Thursday at 1 p.m. It is expected that the approximately $174 million budget will be passed. Then, at 2 p.m., the full board will likely pass the budget.