By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO May 12, 2006 With the prospects for a sales tax increase looking dim, Sullivan County legislators say they are facing a fiscal crisis of enormous proportions.
New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and New York State Senator John Bonacic are still holding back on supporting a measure in Albany which would raise the sales tax by .5 percent to 8 percent.
Yesterday, Sullivan County Legislature Vice Chairman Jonathan Rouis increased his estimate of the gap in the countys budget to over $4 million, without the sales tax increase. The countys proposal last year for a hotel room tax increase appears to have died, adding to the gap.
Bonacic has requested a list from the county on what programs might be cut if the sales tax increase isnt approved.
Since last week, Rouis, Cunningham, County Manager Richard LaCondre and others have been meeting to discuss what may be cut. Rouis said a proposal will be given to legislators next week. The county is also working to respond to Bonacics questions, which Rouis labeled as very specific.
Rouis said a 50 percent reduction in county payments to contracting agencies could be in order. Those agencies could include Sullivan County Community College, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, Sullivan County Visitors Association and a myriad of other organizations.
In addition, Rouis said a hiring freeze would be enacted. Such a freeze would be burdensome to the social services and public safety departments, which he said are currently overloaded.
Rouis, who is also the countys budget chairman and Chairman of the Financial Management Committee, stated that letters have been sent to the agencies requesting comments on how the cuts would affect them.
The pain is going to be deep. It is going to be extensive. It is not going to be easy, said Rouis solemnly.
Legislator Ron Hiatt said feedback should also be taken from the public at large. The discussions amongst the Legislature on what will be cut has all been pledged to remain public.
Some of the countys largest capital projects on the table are the landfill and its proposed expansion, as well as the county jail. Both will be multi-million-dollar projects. The jail alone could reach as much as $60 million. Neither project has been targeted for a rollback yet.
Legislator Kathy LaBuda said that the countys bridge projects could possibly take a back seat. However, she said that most of the countys agencies would likely feel the pinch equally.
She indicated, though, that she was against cutting staff.
Minority Leader Rodney Gaebel continued to place the blame squarely on the state legislators.
He said that Bonacic and Gunther put the county in the position it is in right now and called it a sad day. The cuts the county will have to make will directly affect the countys residents, he said.
Nobody should have to wonder if their job will be cut because [of] the senator or assemblywoman, lamented Gaebel.