Stick to tax cap, Legislature decides
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO November 12, 2013 Taxpayers can count on having no more than a 2.12 percent tax increase from the county next year.
In a rare twist, that’s actually thanks to a minority not a majority of legislators.
It took just four of the nine legislators on Thursday to sink a proposed law that would have allowed the Legislature to override the state-mandated tax cap (calculated to be 2.12 percent for Sullivan County) in this December’s 2014 budget vote.
Thursday’s proposal would not necessarily have led to exceeding the tax cap, though as tentatively proposed, the $200 million 2014 budget comes with a 3.59 percent hike.
“I think we will get to the cap,” predicted Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson.
Samuelson and legislators Kathy LaBuda, Jonathan Rouis, Ira Steingart and Kitty Vetter voted to adopt the law.
“I don’t plan on actually going above the tax cap,” explained Vetter, “but I think having that safety net is an important piece.”
But by state regulation, they needed a sixth assenter who was not forthcoming.
Instead, legislators Gene Benson, Cindy Gieger, Cora Edwards and Alan Sorensen voted against adoption, thus ensuring that the 2014 budget will have to come in at or underneath the 2.12 percent tax increase cap.
“We stay within the tax cap,” Gieger noted in satisfaction after the vote, having called for such because of the widespread economic suffering in the county.
But that vote means more work for legislators now, as Acting County Manager Josh Potosek estimated another $800,000 will have to be cut from the tentative budget to meet the tax cap.
How that will be accomplished is uncertain, though legislators indicated layoffs and service cuts remain last-resort options.
Reflecting the split on the Legislature, two public commenters also weighed in after the vote.
“It’s after the fact, but I think you definitely went down the wrong trail,” observed Grahamsville resident Ken Walter.
On the other hand, Monticello Mayor Gordon Jenkins, who was also in attendance, praised the legislators for sticking to the cap.
“I applaud you guys for that,” he told them.
Cornell Extension to own its HQ
Also on Thursday, legislators unanimously agreed to transfer the Gerald Skoda Education Center in Liberty Cornell Cooperative Extension’s (CCE’s) headquarters to CCE.
That will be accomplished through the Sullivan County Funding Corporation (SCFC), a nonprofit arm of the county lawfully empowered to handle such a transfer.
The transfer will allow CCE to fundraise for and undertake a million dollars’ worth of repairs, including on the roof and non-functional heating system.
Legislator Cora Edwards still wanted an appraisal on the facility, even though it’s being “sold” to CCE for $1 (it was built 26 years ago by the county for CCE, and all debts have been paid off), and Legislator Cindy Gieger expressed concerns about the process.
But when Legislator Kathy LaBuda attempted to assuage those concerns by saying the property should revert back to the county if CCE doesn’t need or want it any longer, SCFC attorney Walter Garigliano argued against such.
If CCE doesn’t securely obtain title to the property, he told legislators, “they’re not going to ever be able to get financing” the financing needed to effect the repairs.
“I’m comfortable with that,” LaBuda replied. “... I still think it’s a good deal.”
Edwards’ and Gieger’s concerns likewise were not enough to dissuade them from an affirmative vote.
“We cannot afford to fix it,” Legislator Kitty Vetter noted, speaking for the county. “And we don’t want to see it collapse around them. ... We need to help make this happen.”
The SCFC is expected today to formally approve the transfer of the building to CCE ownership.
Health commish wants review
Legislators balked at a surprise request by Health and Family Services Commissioner Randy Parker to hire an attorney to conduct a 60-day review of Child Protective Services and the Legal Department.
Parker had not yet sent the request past the various officials who must sign off on it, including financial and legal personnel.
“This is totally inappropriate,” chastised Legislator Kathy LaBuda.
Legislator Cindy Gieger pointed out that the county share of the independent attorney’s $10,000 fee would be just $1,900, and Parker indicated the work would result in data useful to a potential restructuring the departments.
Legislator Jonathan Rouis felt the process circumvented the normal resolution approval process, so ultimately, Gieger agreed to discuss the resolution at the Nov. 21 Executive Committee meeting, ostensibly after it’s been vetted by both legislators and the required county staff.