By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO As of press time yesterday, it appeared the county’s tentative 2012 budget will automatically become the final budget.
Legislators have until the end of today (Tuesday, December 20) to reconvene and formally adopt the budget, either as-is or amended.
But this past Thursday’s 6-3 decision not to pass the proposed budget seems to be sticking, as county officials confirmed yesterday that no new meetings had been set for today.
Legislators will convene in the standard year’s-end meeting on Thursday to finish up a raft of minor issues remaining in 2011, but by then the county budget will be official, whether or not they vote on it.
Legislators offered few amendments to the budget first proposed by County Manager David Fanslau in November which leaves all services and personnel intact and hikes taxes by two percent.
But should legislators choose not to vote on the budget, one loss will occur with the Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development (SASD), whose $45,000 in funding was eliminated in favor of in-house “go green” efforts.
Legislators agreed to restore $25,000 in funding to the SASD, but that would have to be approved in an amended budget, as the original tentative budget contains no such provision.
Fanslau didn’t mind either the amended budget with SASD’s funding intact, or the tentative budget he proposed.
“I have no issues with that process, as the tentative budget reflected the current policies of the County Legislature,” he said yesterday. “However, I will work with the incoming Legislature on the several areas that I outlined in my budget message to mitigate the actual utilization of fund balance [surplus] moving through 2012.”
But at Thursday’s meeting, Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis chided his colleagues for what he termed a “cop-out.”
“It’s a fundamental responsibility of this board to adopt a budget,” he stated. “... Step up and do your jobs.”
But only Rouis, Alan Sorensen and a reluctant Ron Hiatt voted in favor of the $194 million budget.
Legislator Jodi Goodman led the dissenting votes, even though she chaired the Management and Budget Committee meetings which discussed the budget in depth.
“I will not be their excuse for the newly-electeds’ difficult year,” she said, claiming some of the incoming legislators wanted to scapegoat her for a budget with which they’re unhappy. “... Let them start from scratch!”
But Legislator David Sager felt differently, voting “no” because of the incoming Legislature, not in spite of it.
“I think it’s unfair of us to weight them down when we didn’t have to,” he said.
“I think there are some issues in this budget that will be very difficult to deal with,” agreed Legislator Leni Binder, who said she voted “no” because her successor, Gene Benson, would have voted that way.
Regardless, Sager hopes the new Legislature deals more proactively with the unions.
“They live here, too,” he said of the county’s 1,000 employees. “It’s a lot more about how you treat them than what the raise numbers are.
“... They can be part of the solution,” he concluded, “but they’ve never been asked to be part of the solution. ... They may well have some great suggestions.”