Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO December 20, 2013 Legislators yesterday unanimously enacted a 2014 Sullivan County budget that has far less pain in it compared to recent years.
With no layoffs or service cuts, the $200 million budget comes with a 2.27 percent tax hike pegged right at the state-mandated tax cap (and the result of a recalculation of the initially-announced cap of 2.12 percent).
“The 2014 Sullivan County budget is a ‘taxpayer’s reform’ budget,” promised Legislator Cora Edwards. “With the same revenue ($56 million in property taxes and $34 million in sales tax), we stayed within the tax cap with reserves to spare. All credit to the county management team and employees who took on the challenge.
“We did not cut services and in some areas increased funding for our road and bridge repair and other necessary capital improvements,” she continued. “We asked for departments to look at external contracts, and the bulk of $800,000 needed to stay within the tax cap came from external contracts in the area of social services (laundry/linen, transportation contracts, MIS [Management Information Services], etc). The health insurance increase was also less than projected, so that helped a lot.”
Indeed, the budget makes room for a net of six new positions, restores Cornell Cooperative Extension’s 2012 funding level, and throws in an additional $10,000 to go towards programs administered by the Youth Bureau.
As originally proposed, the 2014 budget came with a 3.59 percent tax increase, but legislators ultimately committed themselves to the tax cap and, working with County Manager Josh Potosek, found the needed $715,000 to cut.
Most of those cuts, indicated Potosek, are in reality ways to raise money or reduce expenditures without sacrificing personnel or services.
Potosek thinks it’s a good sign after years of recessionary hits.
“Last year, we somewhat stabilized,” he affirmed, “and I think things are getting a little bit better.”
Both he and Edwards, however, are still cautious.
“We must remain vigilant throughout 2014, because we still have a high rate of foreclosures, and we don’t want people ‘voting with their feet’ and leaving the county because of property taxes,” Edwards said. “We want to plan for the future in a secure and responsible way.”