Dan Hust | Democrat
MAJORITY LEADER KATHY LaBuda speaks about Thursday’s budget vote while legislators (from the left) Frank Armstrong, Elwin Wood and David Sager listen.
Justifying their budget votes
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO County legislators debated, then decided, and ultimately defended their choices on Thursday regarding the $191 million Sullivan County government budget.
The vote was 7-2, with Republican legislators David Sager and Alan Sorensen dissenting.
Sager kicked off the budget discussion during the Executive Committee meeting preceding the full Legislature gathering, making a motion to remove and/or reduce the raises for non-union management/confidential personnel.
He called it “a gesture of good faith” to the many residents who had voiced opposition to the sometimes-double-digit-percentage increases.
Sorensen seconded the motion but found himself alone in his support of Sager.
“This is also a fairness issue,” remarked Democratic Vice Chair Ron Hiatt. “We don’t want to treat management any better than labor… and I really think that works in both directions.”
Hiatt felt those opposed to the raises in the budget didn’t understand their necessity or appropriateness for people taking on more duties with less support staff.
“Some people call it raises,” he remarked. “I call them promotions.”
He was partly joined in that sentiment by Republican Minority Leader Leni Binder.
“There are parts of this budget and these raises that frustrate me,” she acknowledged. But, she added, she’d rather err on the side of helping, not hurting, county workers.
Sorensen attempted to decry the timing of the budget presentations, saying he didn’t have enough time to properly review the budget, but Chair Jonathan Rouis felt “all questions were asked and answered” in the month legislators had to look at County Manager David Fanslau’s proposals.
During the subsequent full board meeting, Rouis reiterated the belief that the budget is fair, while Democratic Majority Leader Kathy LaBuda said it would be “irresponsible of me not to vote for the 2009 budget, which takes care of our employees who take care of our county.”
Democratic Legislator Frank Armstrong admitted his first impulse was to vote “no,” but he didn’t feel the raises would perceptibly impact the county’s bottom line instead calling on all elected officials to voluntarily roll back their salaries.
To vote against the budget, he said, “would have been the cowardly thing to do to seek approval.”
Republican Legislator Jodi Goodman thanked legislators for working together on the budget, though she did note it was “the most difficult budget we’ve ever worked on.”
Turning to Teamsters union representative Lou Setren, she stated, “Lou, I can look you in the eye today.”
Hiatt commented that the 14 county employees facing layoffs were all offered jobs elsewhere in county government and pointed out that dozens of unfilled but funded positions were cut in the ’09 budget.
That left only Sorensen and Sager to vote against the budget, which they did without further comment.
Legislators did try to take a symbolic stand on one raise issue: their own.
Sager, Sorensen, Binder, Goodman, LaBuda, Armstrong and Democrat Elwin Wood all declined to take the $629 raise prepared for them in the ‘09 budget.
Their salaries will stay at $20,977 apiece. However, Hiatt is taking his increase to $21,606, while Rouis already receives a salary of $30,606.