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The Skinny On the County Budget

Fanslau Keeps Things Lean

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — November 20, 2007 — Sullivan County’s proposed $192 million budget for 2008 is $5.65 million more than the 2007 version, though legislators will probably tweak that figure in the coming weeks.
Scheduled to be adopted on December 20, the budget is available for review at the Government Center in Monticello (794-3000, ext. 3300), and the public is invited to talk to legislators about it on December 6 at noon and December 13 at 5:30 p.m.
Don’t have time to scour the nearly 400-page document? Here’s what you need to know:
• Property taxes won’t increase, and $500,000 has been set aside for tax relief in the county’s 15 townships and six incorporated villages. Thanks to an enormous taxable assessments increase of $200.4 million, an extra $1.74 million in revenue has been added to the budget.
• The county will maintain its current quota of workers, but 50 vacant positions and 15 just-requested ones will not be filled.
• The General Fund’s unreserved, undesignated balance (in other words, a surplus) of $4.2 million is not being spent, so as to fatten it up to reduce the impact of future expenses associated with large coming projects like the new jail, Phase II at the landfill and expansion at Sullivan County Community College.
• Sales tax comprises about 25 percent of the county’s total revenue, and the recent half-percent increase in the local rate is expected to add $2 million more in 2008 revenue than this year. The budget anticipates total 2008 sales tax revenues of $37 million.
• That sales tax revenue will go to the departments of Public Works and Public Safety, each of which are receiving 12.875 percent of the anticipated new revenue. A whopping 50 percent will be dedicated to improving the county’s creditworthiness for future bonding efforts, while the rest will go to flood mitigation, open space preservation, fire training center completion, and tax relief.
• Overtime will be limited to the Adult Care Center, the jail, the road patrol, E911 and snow removal. And even then, each department will be prohibited from exceeding the budgeted amount for that overtime.
• The county’s share of Medicaid costs will increase by $500,000 to $18.5 million and is expected to do so again in 2009.
• Two detectives and a youth officer will be joining the Sheriff’s Office, along with needed equipment.
• The County Museum has funds to operate all year long, while Fort Delaware will get enough money to operate four days a week from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
“By the beginning looks of it [the tentative 2008 county budget] this looks like a good document,” said Jonathan Rouis, chair of the management and budget committee.

Spending Cuts, Large Projects on Horizon

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — Sullivan County Manager David Fanslau used Thursday’s unveiling of the tentative 2008 county budget to make a case for several future efforts he considers important.
Written within his summary of the budget were the following points of interest, all related to his goal of basing county government operations on tangible performance and results:
• He’ll be urging legislators and appointed/hired leaders to create an Economic Development Master Plan that is countywide in scope but also focuses on each municipality.
• Spending must be reduced in 2009, he said, and all departments are being asked to cut their expenses by five percent by that time.
• While additional county clerk workers have been approved by legislators, Fanslau indicated the trend of increased dealer transactions with the Department of Motor Vehicles may be coming to an end, and with it may go some of those positions.
• Contingency plans must be in place if Phase II of the County Landfill in Monticello is not approved by the state. But beyond that, Fanslau is recommending legislators approve a fiscal feasibility study of the entire solid waste system.
• Fanslau has asked Chief Information Officer Lorne Green to develop a plan to replace the government’s 200 printers, 60 fax machines and 30 copiers with a smaller number of multifunction machines accessible to multiple people at a time.
• He’s even focused on the cleaning schedule, advocating for it to be modified to cut down on the current $260,000 annual cost.
• An energy audit is already under way, with completion expected in early 2008.
• “There will be an effort to minimize the use of consultants and carry that minimization forward to the 2009 budget,” he wrote in the summary.
• Since 2004, the Mental Health Clinic, Treatment Reaching Youth and Continuing Day Treatment programs have greatly exceeded their budgets, with many of those services not mandated by the state or federal governments. As a result, Fanslau plans to monitor those programs more closely and will be requiring improved productivity to continue funding them.
• A task force has already filed a preliminary report on the Department of Family Services, noting that policies, procedures and other standardized guidance do not exist. Once the report is finalized, Fanslau plans to recommend numerous improvements.
• He’s also advocating for legislators to review the use of private vehicles as opposed to the county’s motor pool fleet, saying the evidence shows that it’s more cost-effective to use county vehicles than to reimburse those driving private vehicles at the current IRS mileage rate.
• Finally, he’s recommending legislators examine the current designations within the unreserved fund balance (the surplus) “to ensure that those designations and the associated revenues reflect the public policy priorities of the Legislature.”
“I intend to continue to comprehensively examine the structure of county government to ensure that the county’s functions are operating efficiently,” he concluded in his summary.

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