County to be socked by revenue shortfall
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO If you consider revenue as blood, Sullivan County is bleeding badly.
County officials were desperately hoping that the second October payment of sales taxes generated at the end of this past summer would reach expectations.
It didn’t even come close.
According to County Treasurer Ira Cohen and County Manager David Fanslau, sales tax revenues fell by $700,000 from $2,278,936 for the second October payment in 2008 to $1,536,521 this year.
“That’s huge,” said Cohen.
It gets worse. The county now has an overall sales tax shortfall of $2 million.
“And by the end of the year, it will be more than that,” said Cohen.
Add in the fact that mortgage tax revenues have fallen by more than 50 percent to pre-1999 levels, and Sullivan County is, by all accounts, about to get smacked very hard by the back end of the recession wave.
And officials are now greatly worried their preparedness is incomplete.
“Our contingency planning which included reducing expenditures, eliminating vacant positions and instituting a hiring freeze would allow for a reduction of approximately $1.7 million, but not the $2.7 million or $3.1 million that is now projected,” said Fanslau yesterday.
As a result, said Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis, “everything is on the table.”
That means layoffs are all but certain as many as 100 positions perhaps starting as early as next month. So is the elimination of programs and services. And thanks to increasing costs (especially unfunded state mandates), property owners can count on tax hikes of at least 3-5 percent.
The questions county leaders now have to answer are, “Where, and how much?”
Just maintaining the status quo which would require an additional $12.7 million, said Fanslau is not even an option.
“We simply cannot afford to continue at our current staffing levels,” he explained. “Reductions will be made to union employees and management/confidential employees proportionately, and we will begin meetings with our union delegates as soon as possible to ensure open communication during this process.”
Whatever path is chosen, however, may make things even more difficult.
“I have had conversations with a number of individuals who find the idea of cutting programs and laying off county employees to be unacceptable, and I want to be clear: no one wants to cut services or lay off employees,” said Fanslau. “However, our mandated expenses are increasing, our revenues are decreasing, and it is simply unacceptable to think that the property taxpayers of Sullivan County should or are able to pay a double-digit property tax increase to simply maintain the status quo. A property tax increase must be minimized and [used as] a last resort after all other options are considered.”
“I think it’s going to be the most difficult budget in recent memory,” observed Rouis, himself a certified public accountant. “We just have to plan and be prepared. ... And we’re going to need some patience from the public.”
Budget input by public welcomed
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO If you live, work or own property in Sullivan County, you’re welcome to play a part in crafting what County Manager David Fanslau and Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis are calling “the most difficult budget Sullivan County has faced in recent memory.”
Committee meetings are open to the public and are held in the mornings and early afternoons of the first two Thursdays of the month, and legislators can be reached at 807-0435.
The tentative 2010 budget will be posted on the county’s website, www.scgnet.us, on Friday, Nov. 13. Comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Informational and public comment sessions will be held on the following dates:
• Tuesday, November 24 at the Town of Tusten Town Hall, Narrowsburg at 7 p.m.
• Tuesday, December 1 at the Liberty Senior Center in Liberty at 7 p.m.
• Wednesday, December 2 at the Mamakating Town Hall in Wurtsboro at 7 p.m.
• OFFICIAL PUBLIC HEARINGS: Thursday, December 10 at noon and Tuesday, December 15 at 7 p.m., both inside the Hearing Room at the Government Center in Monticello.