Fanslau sees a budget of pain
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO At $191,123,532, Sullivan County’s tentative 2010 budget stands $104,967 less than last year’s.
But if legislators approve it as submitted by County Manager David Fanslau, 46 county employees will lose their jobs, while taxpayers will see a five percent increase in their county bill.
Fanslau blames it on a state and region deep in the throes of one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression.
“The proposed spending decrease provides for an anticipation of declining levels of state aid, escalating healthcare and employee benefit costs, and various state and federal mandates,” Fanslau stated in the budget documentation released yesterday.
It also anticipates $2 million less in sales taxes and $800,000 less in mortgage taxes, plus a complete avoidance of utilizing a $2.1 million surplus (fund balance).
“This continues a trend, which I initiated, that places the county on a more prudent fiscal course,” Fanslau explained, “and reverses years of rather large appropriations of General Fund’s fund balance that created a dangerously low unreserved fund balance.”
Fifty-four vacant positions spanning all the county’s departments will go unfilled, as will 46 occupied jobs.
However, Fanslau provided two ideas that could avoid the loss of those 46 employees.
“1. Have all county employees that receive health benefits at county expense contribute 15 percent of the premium, which would avoid $1.5 million in county expense,” he wrote.
(Currently, county workers pay anywhere from nothing to 10 percent of their health insurance costs.)
“2. Rather than provide 14 paid holidays (13 full days and 2 half days), provide 8.5 paid holidays and 5.5 unpaid holidays, which would avoid $1.1 million in county expense.”
As a result, he said, the $2.6 million needed to fund those 46 positions could be saved.
Whether or not legislators and the employee unions will agree remains to be seen, and budget review talks are scheduled to begin next week.
Other items of note in yesterday’s tentative budget release:
• Fanslau is proposing the county divest itself from the Adult Care Center in Liberty, in which Catskill Regional Medical Center has expressed interest.
He’s also proposing the Center for Workforce Development be absorbed by either Sullivan County Community College or Sullivan County BOCES.
Both will be discussed in upcoming legislative meetings.
• District Attorney Jim Farrell may be making more than $20,000 less than his predecessor, Steve Lungen.
With Lungen retiring, his $148,136 annual salary will fall to the state minimum of $127,000 for Farrell.
Fanslau said it was discussed with both Republicans and Democrats on the Legislature.
• Few raises will be handed out (though most legislators will see a slight increase), and management/confidential employees will not get a pay raise at all.
Furlough days were not ultimately included in the proposed budget because of the complexity of scheduling employees to cover for others during regular office hours.
• The Sullivan County Visitors Association, under Fanslau’s plan, will get the full 100 percent of the room tax collected on all overnight accommodations in the county.
Currently, it gets 85 percent, and Fanslau said the additional 15 percent will be dedicated to a matching funds program to spur local tourism.
• The Upper Delaware Scenic Byway Visitors Center remains in the budget, per the Capital Plan and agreement by the Legislature.
Fanslau envisions a short-term (five-year) borrowing program to enable the county to build the seasonal-use structure along Route 97 in Cochecton.
• Also not facing cuts are the Office for the Aging and the Veterans Service Agency, though like all the other departments, they are mandated to avoid overtime.
And the departments which are permitted overtime (Sheriff’s Office, Adult Care Center, Division of Public Works snow removal unit) are not allowed to overshoot their budget for that overtime.
• Fanslau said the state has to undertake two major reforms to enable Sullivan County (and New York in general) to rise out of the economic doldrums.
The most welcome step, he remarked, would be an end to unfunded state mandates.
“The state needs to provide 100 percent of the funding for mandates,” he remarked.
The other needed step is tax-exempt legislation reform, he explained, noting that about 20 percent of the county’s taxable property more than $2 billion in assessed value is off the tax rolls.
“If all non-governmental tax-exempt real property were presently subject to real property taxation, there would be a net reduction of the property tax by 14.45 percent, rather than proposing to increase the equalized real property tax rate by five percent,” he remarked.
“At the very least, there should be an ability authorized by New York State to realize revenues from the impacts of providing county government services associated with improvements on tax-exempt properties, so that the 81 percent of the balance of taxable real property owners do not have to shoulder the burden of 100 percent of the property tax levy,” Fanslau concluded.
• Though Sullivan County is no worse off than its municipal neighbors, according to Fanslau, if no huge revenue-enhancer like casinos comes to the county, the future looks bleak for the next few years.
“There [will] need to be a focus on getting to the basics of government services,” he admitted.
• For more information on the budget, to secure copies or to make comments, contact the Legislature at 807-0435 or log on to www.scgnet.us.