By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO May 19, 2006 Under the gun, the Sullivan County Legislature was presented with a drastic course of action yesterday developed through steering committees led mainly by Sullivan County Managers Richard LaCondre and Harvey Smith, Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham, Legislature Vice Chairman Jonathan Rouis, Personnel Commissioner Pamela Rourke and department heads over the past two weeks.
The plan, if followed, would institute a deep hiring freeze, as well as a 50 percent reduction in contracting agencies. The proposals are meant to make up for an estimated $4.6 million budget deficit which was to be filled by a .5 percent sales tax increase and room tax hike. Both are currently dead in the New York State Legislature, with no sign of resuscitation from either Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther or Senator John Bonacic.
As outlined by LaCondre and Rouis in front of the Legislature yesterday, millions of dollars would be slashed from the county payroll by not filling vacant positions.
County leaders stressed repeatedly that nobody would be laid off from current positions.
None of the plans presented was approved yesterday. Public worksessions will be set in the future to discuss them further.
Smith, who announced his intention to retire earlier this year, has apparently committed to doing so, as evidenced by the projection that his salaries as manager and Commissioner of General Services are part of the savings.
The countys D&H Canal Park and Fort Delaware would be closed, except for previously scheduled school trips.
County Attorney Sam Yasgur called for all current contracts to be cancelled and renegotiated. The Legislature unanimously approved a resolution giving the county manager the authority to do so.
Some of the countys largest departments also saw some of the biggest cuts in the plan. The Department of Public Works will leave 70 positions open, including seasonal laborers and employees at the solid waste facility and transfer stations. Roads and bridge maintenance will also be impacted. The savings is estimated at $733,000. In addition, DPW Commissioner Robert Meyer cut $3,000 in salary re-arrangements among top DPW employees.
The Department of Family Services would have 10 positions open, which would save the county $280,000; $945,000 in programs could also be on the table, though they were not discussed yesterday.
Five positions in the Department of Community Services would not be filled at a savings of $193,000.
About $400,000 might be charged back to the countys towns who have students attending out-of-county colleges. LaCondre said the county has that right under state law.
Other proposed spending cuts include $225,000 from Public Health Nursing (by not adding six positions), a $200,000 compactor for the landfill, $35,000 for the Sullivan County District Attorneys office for drug enforcement, $139,000 from the Probation Department to hire three employees, and $60,000 from the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department to hire two new patrol officers. About $100,000 would be saved by not hiring two employees for Management Information Systems.
Around $1,157,500 would be the total savings by the county if it withheld 50 percent of its projected funding from various agencies.
Those agencies and their current projected budgets include:
Sullivan County Visitors Association $800,000
Cornell Cooperative Extension $480,000
Sullivan ARC $171,000
Soil and Water Conservation District $134,000
Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development $75,000
Sullivan County Head Start $34,000
Community Action Commission $30,000
Delaware Valley Arts Alliance $25,000
Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce $25,000
Sportsmens Federation $25,000
Library Alliance $15,000
Eagle Institute $10,000
Sullivan County Literacy Volunteers $5,000
Sullivan Performing Arts $5,000
Time is running out, said Rouis on the prospects of receiving the sales tax increase from Albany.
He said it was prudent for the county to deal now with the ramifications of the shortfall.
This is real. . . . Real lives are being impacted. . . . We are at the eleventh and a half hour. . . . Our constituents can no longer support property tax increases. . . . We are where we are because everybody operated under a set of parameters that are no longer the case.
Chairman Chris Cunningham said, We are having to be prudent financially to deal with the circumstances. We are not in a position to operate a deficit. We will try and maintain services the best we can. The dollars the county spends are intimately connected to services residents love and expect. The budget last year and the sales tax increase was made because we decided property taxes could not be [the first way to increase revenue]. The current levels of programs could be affected for years to come. Property taxes are at a point where they cant go up.
He cited the recent defeats of local school budgets and said he would be meeting with several school boards to discuss the tax situation. But he pledged not to increase property taxes significantly next year. He also pledged not to lay off any employees but said that it was our absolute last, drop-dead scenario.
He also attacked state representatives, calling their lack of action unconscionable.
But on Wednesday, Gunther said there are currently no plans to support a sales tax hike and pointed to the unanimous opposition of town supervisors and other legislators.
John Bonacic has requested a copy of the countys proposed budget cuts and will be responding soon. However, he also has no plans to support the sales tax hike.