By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO October 5, 2004 Sullivan County Manager Dan Briggs hit taxpayers with gloomy news on Friday morning, presenting a budget that would raise the real property tax by 9 percent.
Briggs described the new $179,943,574 budget as fair. The proposed budget increased spending by 3 percent, but also pays over $4 million of a county debt estimated at over $60 million, largely due to landfill-related costs.
Briggs stated that approximately 51 percent of the tax levy involves Medicaid-related expenses, due to state law. The federal government currently shoulders 50 percent of the Medicaid burden, while the state and county split the remaining balance.
Mental and hygiene services, which include a number of optional services, take up the largest portion of county spending 36.34 percent. In the 2005 budget summary, health is listed separately as the number two highest expenditure with 14.29 percent of total spending.
Health and mental hygiene services total $65,384,019. Over $25 million of that is listed as medical assistance. Over $12 million of that fund is allocated for social services, and over $5 million is directed to family services. Exactly $3.71 million is projected for foster care.
Over $12 million is allocated from the budget to pay for the Adult Care Center, although the county is reimbursed for approximately $10 million. Over $4 million is earmarked for public health nursing and over $5 million for early care.
Briggs expressed mixed signals regarding the countys various health services. He said, These are quality of life services that make our community a better place to live, but we must understand that it represents an expense to the county.
The county was hit particularly hard regarding pension and health care costs for employees.
Pensions rose 92.44 percent to $5,461,410 from 2003 to the 2005 tentative budget. Health insurance rates spiked 27.93 percent in the previous year alone. Exactly $14,707,096 is proposed to be spent on health care for county workers in 2005, approximately eight percent of the countys entire budget.
And 15.93 percent of the countys budget is set aside for public works. Exactly $19,147,633 of the fund goes towards county roads. The county is expecting millions of dollars next year in aid for its roads, due to flood damage.
Briggs estimated that the landfill would lose at least $1.6 million next year due to a projected decrease in landfill intake and the end of outside contracts. That is aside from the tens of millions of dollars the county is indebted for it.
However, there has been no announcement of any ban on imported garbage. The countys tipping fees have risen $20 a ton for regular waste and soared to $125 a ton for construction and demolition debris.
Another substantial expense detailed in the 2005 budget is for a new county fire training center. The countys share is listed at $2,000,000.
After the presentation by Briggs, he was questioned about approximately $7 million the county had projected for its general fund. Briggs said the money was never there to begin with. The errors in reporting occurred over several years. The mistakes were said to have originated in the Family Services and Community Services departments, although no changes in those departments were ever announced.
Briggs said he was open to further cuts in the budget. The Sullivan County Legislature will begin its public meetings with each department this Thursday at the Sullivan County Government Center to discuss just that.
According to Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham and Majority Leader Kathleen LaBuda, there will be at least two public hearings on the budget before it is adopted December 20.
LaBuda said she hopes the tax impact can be reduced.