County to tighten belt on spending
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO With New York State officially declaring a recession, Sullivan County Manager David Fanslau is warning the county’s 1,000-strong workforce that belt-tightening is nigh.
“My concern is if the governor requests current-year spending cuts that include an additional cut of state aid to counties by an additional two percent which would represent a four percent total cut in state aid it would create a $900,000 decrease in state aid and a corresponding hole in the county budget,” he told county officials in a memo distributed last week. “The adopted 2008-2009 state budget already contains a two percent state aid reduction that will create a $450,000 hole in the 2008 Sullivan County budget.”
Add to that a year-to-year reduction of mortgage tax revenue by $160,000, sales tax revenue by $150,000, and hotel room tax by $40,000, and Fanslau said a $1.25 million cut is required in this year’s already-adopted county budget.
First steps include restricting travel reimbursements to those using county-owned vehicles; requiring Division of Management and Budget Commissioner Josh Potosek’s approval of each purchase of goods, services and equipment; and asking every department head to reduce requested appropriations for 2009 by five percent.
“Further appropriations reductions may be recommended depending upon the state of the county’s economy,” he added.
Though layoffs aren’t yet in the picture, Teamsters Local 445 Principal Officer Adrian Huff, whose union represents half the county’s workforce, said this move on top of a 15 percent staff reduction in the past two years will put the county in danger of repeating disastrous scenarios like last winter’s HEAP debacle.
“It leaves [the county] open to expensive lawsuits,” Huff said on Friday. “It’s pennywise and pound-foolish.”
The county, he felt, “is poised for a growth spurt,” with the Monticello Motor Club, the Concord redevelopment and the prospect of gas drilling all potentially large and new sources of income for county government.
Huff even felt that Sullivan’s leaders shouldn’t be averse to adding staff.
“The county should always be open to the possibility of increasing its workforce where needed,” he said.
But if legislators approve Fanslau’s plan, no one will be hired who isn’t absolutely essential this year akin to the state’s “hard hiring freeze.” In fact, Fanslau has called for every department to submit a six-year attrition plan when planning for 2009’s budget.
The process of making these cuts will apparently be bipartisan.
“I’m not against the cuts,” remarked Republican Minority Leader Leni Binder. “... We are not getting the income we anticipated.”
She has yet to look at the individual items Fanslau is proposing to cut, but she’s certain that “luxuries” like New York State Association of Counties’ conferences will have to be set aside.
And she knows that this will go far deeper than just the Legislature right down to non-profit agencies funded by the county.
“There are always repercussions, and that’s the hard part to see,” Binder said.
“It’s going to be painful for all of us,” acknowledged Democratic Majority Leader Kathy LaBuda. “But at this stage of the game, I’m not sure how we’re going to avoid this.”
While she agreed that several potentially large taxpayers have promising projects in the works, the county has to make cuts now though she has her own ideas as to where.
“My list may certainly be a little bit different from his,” she said of Fanslau’s proposals. “But everything is on the table.”
The county manager will give more details at legislative committee meetings this month. Meetings start at 9:15 a.m. the first two Thursdays, followed by the full Legislature meeting on August 21 at 2 p.m., all inside the Government Center in Monticello.