By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO This year, state-mandated programs consumed 85 percent of Sullivan County’s budget.
County Manager David Fanslau’s calculations indicate such programs will eat up 93 percent of the county’s 2012 budget.
That $194 million tentative budget was unveiled two days after Election Day at Thursday’s Management and Budget Committee meeting of the Legislature.
It comes with no cuts to personnel or services but does feature a tax hike, albeit under the state-mandated two percent cap.
That’s a direct result of the county dipping into its reserves by about $6.3 million a feat it won’t be able to repeat this time next year.
So Fanslau on Thursday urged legislators to work with county staff to (a) reduce the planned usage of reserve funds, (b) seek out new forms of revenue, and (c) discuss which services must remain in the public sector and which can be switched to private providers.
“‘Revenue enhancement’ is not a code word for additional taxes, per se,” Fanslau explained, responding to legislators’ fears.
But he did acknowledge that, for the county to avoid exceeding the two-percent property tax increase cap next year, the state will have to come through with its promised unfunded mandate relief.
“This must be their [state legislators’] top priority in the next legislative session,” said Fanslau.
In the meantime, the County Legislature now must get to work reviewing and potentially revising Fanslau’s proposed 2012 county budget.
At $193,845,603, it’s $2,869,594 larger than the current county budget, in order to maintain services and staffing and to meet obligations like pension contributions and contractual raises.
Still, legislators may subtract or add to that number before settling on a final budget in December.
Unlike last year, however, the process will likely not involve layoffs.
“Staffing reductions are NOT recommended as part of this budget, as county departments are already at minimum staffing levels required to provide current services,” Fanslau said.
In fact, he’s advocating for the creation of a new position: a logistics transportation coordinator.
“The county spends millions of dollars on transportation costs annually for various programs, from the pre-kindergarten transportation services, to Community Services transportation, as mandated services from the state,” Fanslau wrote in his budget address.
“... I have proposed the creation of a logistics transportation coordinator that will focus on reducing the county’s transportation expenses with the mandated programs, by developing the routes and ensuring that the vendor is operating the routes efficiently,” he explained. “Also, this position will develop routes to permit the county to offer enhanced public transportation, with the goal of maximizing ridership opportunities.”
It’s budgeted for a $50,000 salary.
“I believe that the position will pay for itself with reduced expenses from more efficient routing of the mandated programs,” Fanslau explained.
But come January, cuts may be the main topic for the county manager and a mostly new crop of legislators. Fanslau’s budget presentation highlighted a need to discuss the fate of the Adult Care Center, non-mandated mental hygiene services, the Certified Home Health Agency (CHHA), all the organizations with which the county contracts for services (many of which are facing a 15 percent reduction in their funding) and an across-the-board hiring freeze.
“There’s so much to talk about, it’s scary,” agreed Legislator Ron Hiatt (though he is retiring at the end of December). “I don’t even know where to start.”
Actually, he did have a starting point: the unions.
Legislator David Sager agreed, feeling employees would help the county cut its expenses if there’s an honest and transparent discussion.
“Involve them early on,” Sager urged, adding that management and elected officials must show the same willingness to sacrifice as the rank-and-file an idea that garnered explicit support from Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis.
Teamsters Local 445 Business Agent Sandy Shaddock welcomed the thought, though she insisted it be more than lip service.
“I agree there needs to be communication,” she stated. “I think in the past year it’s been very one-sided.”
There are some meetings that apparently won’t happen, however. When Fanslau asked if legislators wanted him to resume travelling around the county presenting the tentative budget, he was told not to bother.
“I don’t know how useful that is,” Hiatt mused, recalling the low-to-nonexistent turnouts at such presentations. “I wouldn’t have you go around.”
Copies of the currently-proposed tentative budget and Fanslau’s presentation are available on the main page of the county’s website at www.co.sullivan.ny.us.