Schoharie County budget a "one-two punch"


By David Avitabile

Schoharie County taxpayers may suffer a "one-two punch" of increased spending and lower than expected revenue in next year's budget.
As Schoharie County Treasurer Bill Cherry prepared to unveil his 2015 budget around October 15, he is faced with more spending for 2015 in areas of salt, blacktop and the stream bank rehabilitation project as well as a disappointing sales tax total.
"As usual, we will have a difficult time juggling an increase in spending, many that we do not have control over, and a decline in revenue...
"This year we're dealing with a one-two punch."
Mr. Cherry is still meeting with department heads and outside agencies and cannot give a tax hike projection, but did say, "I've said it will be almost impossible to stay within the two percent tax cap."
Even with a "hold the line spending plan," spending, and taxes may still go up.
Much work remains on the budget, which will eventually go to county supervisors for discussions and approval.
"I'm crunching nickels and dimes to try to hold the line on taxes."
The tax hike last year was at 1.98 percent.
Despite trying to hold down costs, the Treasurer sees a list of expenditures that will be increasing for next year.
The caseload for Department of Social Services employees is increasing and much of that cost will be paid by the county, he said.
"We're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars."
In the Department of Public Works, there are large increases in the cost of salt and blacktop.
Sand and salt are increasing by about 60 percent.
That's a major budget line," Mr. Cherry noted.
The salt and sand line may increase from $650,000 for this year to $950,000 for 2015 for the same amount of material.
The cost of blacktop is increasing by about 20 percent increasing that budget line from $650,000 to $786,000, according to Mr. Cherry.
Another large expenditure will be how to pay for the county's share of the stream bank rehab project.
The project, estimated at $22 to $25 million, will probably be funded by grants at a total of around 85 percent, Mr. Cherry said, leaving a gap of about $3 million for the county.
County officials have to find a way to spread out the costs over time.
Paying back those costs will "absolutely have an impact" on the 2015 budget, Mr. Cherry added.
In addition to increased spending, Mr. Cherry also has to contend with flat sales tax revenue.
The county had budgeted sales tax revenue at $15.25 million for this year, but for the first six months of the year, only $7.116 million was collected, according to Mr. Cherry.
That is an increase over the $6.8 million collected during the same time in 2013, but much less from the totals collected in 2011 and 2012 when the county routinely brought in over $15 million in sales tax revenue.
Sales tax revenue dropped to $14.210 million in 2013 and was at $14.5 million last year.
County officials, he admitted, have to reassess what the sales tax revenue will be next year.
He is not sure whether the decline in the sales tax may be from the aftermath of the recession or the flood of 2011, but whatever the reason, a lower sales tax figure means the revenue has to come from somewhere else.
The state has not helped, he added, eliminating some reimbursements such as for indigent defense.
The state began cutting the reimbursement for this fund four years ago and now the county has to pay the increase.
"Who pays the bill? The taxpayers of the county," Mr. Cherry said.