Double-digit tax hike?
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO In the midst of recovery from Hurricane Sandy, the county managed to unveil its tentative 2013 budget.
Following the dictates of the County Legislature majority, County Manager David Fanslau said the proposed $195.2 million budget features no reduction of services and no layoffs.
But it does come with a 13.77 percent tax hike, which is about as welcome in the county as Sandy was.
“The proposed tax increase is far too high,” assessed Legislator Alan Sorensen yesterday.
Sorensen the leader of the Republican minority said he has yet to review the budget in depth but indicated he’ll have recommendations to make, perhaps as soon as this Thursday’s round of committee meetings.
“It seems the emphasis has been on revenue enhancement rather than the need to cut services,” he remarked.
He’d like to see the tax increase around two percent but even he acknowledges that’s unlikely.
“I’m not sure that it is [realistic], given the county’s current fiscal condition,” said Sorensen.
Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson indicated a single-digit tax hike may indeed be the stuff of dreams.
“It’s pretty rough,” he affirmed. “Every legislator is a resident and property owner in Sullivan County, and this doesn’t make us happy at all.
“I am one of those people who wants smaller government, but we’re about as small as we can get,” he added.
Fanslau blamed the tax impact on the state, which has delivered little in the way of unfunded mandate reform or relief, forcing Sullivan County to hike its spending by more than $1 million in this tentative budget.
“I would note that the increase in spending is directly connected to the uncontrolled, growing bills from the state ... for the state’s programs,” he said, “as opposed to increased spending for local priorities, such as public works and public safety.”
But since county legislators don’t set state policy, those local services are the only place they’ll have authority to cut.
So while Samuelson is confident the 13.77 percent increase can be trimmed slightly, he’s blunt about the review process legislators will now undertake before adopting the final budget in December.
“This is where you’ll really start to feel a loss of a department, a loss of a service,” he warned of further cuts, lamenting that “the state mandates were going to catch up to us at some point.”
Highlighted aspects of the proposed 2013 county budget:
• Stands at $195,199,420, an increase of $1,353,817 over 2012’s adopted budget
• No service reductions, no layoffs, no usage of surplus funds (of which $7 million was appropriated for 2012)
• 13.77 percent tax hike (likely to be decreased by legislators), down from a 39.28 percent increase (if all budget requests had been granted)
• Anticipates $34 million in sales tax revenue (up from this year’s $33 million anticipation) and the county’s involvement in paying pension contributions to the state in installments rather than all at once
• Fanslau recommends the county continue to work on replacing the 911 towers and related communications systems, implement a Social Services restructuring plan, and automatically defund positions that become vacant (requiring the Legislature to adopt a resolution each time they want to fill them).