By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO July 25, 2006 The Sullivan County Legislature restored most of the funding to local agencies that it had planned to cut, during its monthly meeting on Thursday. A little more than half of the funding was secured by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther.
A total of $64,000 was cut from the total appropriations of $1.419 million. The largest cuts were to the two largest agencies the Sullivan County Visitors Association, which took a cut of $20,000, and Cornell Cooperative Extension, which had its budget slashed by $15,000.
Initially, the county proposed cutting the aid to the agencies in half after its hopes for a sales tax hike died in the State Legislature.
The new funding of $334,800 by the county was opposed by Financial Committee Chairman Jonathan Rouis, who said the impact would be too large on the countys budget, which had a shortfall of about $4 million due to the lack of a sales tax increase.
The groups do fantastic work, he said.
However, he warned that the impact of their appropriations will be felt even more in next years budget.
The county was given a stark assessment of its financial condition earlier in the day by County Treasurer Ira Cohen.
In prepared remarks, Cohen urged the county to curtail spending or face a downgraded bond rating. The county recently issued $22 million in long-term bonds but was told by the ratings agency that reviewed its financial reports that its fund balance had to be replenished.
The undesignated general fund balance currently sits at $4 million. Cohen said the balance should be twice that much. If the countys rating was to drop by .5 percent, taxpayers would have to divvy up more than $11 million to repay its bonds, said Cohen.
Cohen added that a sales tax increase would have helped the countys fiscal condition. He criticized state representatives for failing to act on the hike. He stated that county residents should be prepared for modest property tax increases over the next several years.
Large spending projects await the county, including a new jail, which could cost as much as $60 million, and the expansion of the county landfill whose ultimate expenses are unknown as the current landfill has caused a majority of the countys current debt. This years $207 million budget raised expenditures by $27 million.
Rouis said he agreed with Cohen. The county may develop a debt management plan, he said. Stephen Lynch, a consultant who has been hired several times by the county for presentations on the landfill, may be paid again to do work on a debt management plan.
Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham said he largely agreed with Cohens statements, as well. He said the county begun cutting spending but noted that there were a number of services the county provides that residents have come to expect and are hard to cut. A number of departments have seen cuts over the last several months, particularly the Department of Public Works.
In other county business, the full Legislature approved a resolution which will limit the countys ability to tax the sale of gasoline past the $3 mark. The Legislature was going along with a bill passed by the State Legislature, which will take effect December 1.
Legislators Leni Binder and Rodney Gaebel voted against the measure. Gaebel has said the timing is wrong, considering the countys financial problems.
Other resolutions approved by the Legislature included setting aside $50,000 to join other counties in opposing the construction of high-voltage direct current powerlines by New York Regional Interconnect. The money will go to hire attorneys.
Exactly $365,413 was approved for Urban Engineers of New York City to work as management consultants on a new transportation facility on Airport Road in White Lake. A $76,523 contract was awarded to McFarland-Johnson of Binghamton to be the mechanical/electrical engineering consultant on the new facility.
Cunningham said the building was part of a program to expand public transportation in the county. Part of that program will be funded through the federal government.
And $148,955 was approved for Smalls Plumbing and Heating to install the gas-fired heaters at the materials recovery facility at the landfill.
The countys search for a county manager is in its final stages. County officials are interested in a specific individual whose name has not yet been released. Negotiations are ongoing, but the two sides appear to have agreed on a general package.
Figures have not yet been released but will likely be approved formally at the Legislatures meeting in two weeks.