Schoharie County supervisors adopted a budget that uses $2.8 million from the fund balance to keep the tax increase at 2.4 percent Monday after hearing it’s unlikely they’ll even need to tap into those reserves.
Presented as Option #2 by County Administrator Steve Wilson, the budget slips under the tax cap by a mere $18,747; supervisors passed the local law that lets them exceed it just in case the math is off.
Option #1 would have used $2.5 million from the fund balance for a 3.79 percent increase in the tax levy, but would have exceeded the tax cap by $281,253.
Mr. Wilson said both plans leave between $11 million and $14 million in the fund balance.
And while the new spending plan budgets for increases in health care, one thing it doesn’t include is $665,000 for two percent CSEA raises—just an estimate, Mr. Wilson said, since those discussions just began anew about two weeks ago.
“So why isn’t it in?” he said of the raises.
In part because “we like to put real numbers in and we don’t have them.”
But also because there are other places to find the money if it’s needed, including the $700,000 Year One New York Power Authority relicensing settlement; a likely 2018 surplus due in part to better-than-expected sales tax and county property auction revenues; or the fund balance.
Mr. Wilson told supervisors that every year since 2013, the budget has generated enough of a surplus that ultimately, they haven’t even had to draw from the fund balance and he’s confident that will be the case again this year.
“Either of these options is safe and supports the rebuilding of the overall economy,” he said before supervisors’ vote; voting against the budget—Option #2—were supervisors Phil Skowfoe, Fulton; Pete Coppolo, Middleburgh; and Sandy Manko, Sharon.
• • •
Not everyone was happy with the 2019 spending plan, however.
Speaking before the vote, Middleburgh Fire Chief Jerry Wayman told supervisors the NYPA settlement was intended at least in part for EMS and he suggested they use some of it to help offset the costs of replacement aerial ladder trucks for both the Middleburgh and Cobleskill FDs, which “divide” the county with their aerial coverage.
Middleburgh’s truck will need to be replaced soon at a cost of about $1 million, Mr. Wayman said adding, “Fire departments in this county are surviving on grants.”
Supervisors agreed to discuss how to do that.
Carlisle Supervisor John Leavitt, who’s retired from the State Police, also asked about staffing for the new jail; supervisors plan to hire 12 corrections officers in March and another 12 in August—even though the jail won’t open till January 2020 at the earliest.
“I’m getting a lot of questions about why we need so many additional guards when we’ll have 14 fewer prisoners than we had before and why we’re hiring them so early,” Mr. Leavitt said.
The answers are many, said Jefferson Supervisor Peggy Hait and Seward Supervisor and former sheriff John Bates.
The hirings begin in March because that’s when school starts, Ms. Hait said, and there’s only enough room for a dozen officers at a time.
The jail’s more modern design requires different staffing levels as does the fact that it will also be housing women, Mr. Bates said.
Additionally, because the county’ been without a jail since Hurricane Irene, the entire staff will need to be re-educated and, Ms. Hait said, the Corrections Commission is requiring six months of “practice” in the jail—without inmates—to make sure it’s escape-proof.