Cherry: 2017 budget a disaster


By Jim Poole

"It's a disaster" was the way Schoharie County Treasurer Bill Cherry describe the 2017 tentative county budget.
Added positions, a spiking tax increase, and most of all, simple arithmetic mistakes make the budget a land mine for county finances, Mr. Cherry said.
Released on Friday (See related story.), the tentative budget was put together by County Administrator Steve Wilson in his first try at a county budget.
Mr. Wilson was aware of Mr. Cherry's criticism and said he'll take full responsibility for the mistakes.
Mr. Cherry is the former budget officer; county supervisors took those duties from him and gave them to Mr. Wilson shortly after he was hired last year.
Emphasizing that his condemnation wasn't sour grapes for not being budget officer, Mr. Cherry said it was his responsibility to speak out as treasurer and the county's chief financial officer.
And speak out he did, in several phone interviews and in a letter to the editor on page 4 this week.
"He has spending going up $4 million, which is unacceptable in itself," Mr. Cherry said of Mr. Wilson. "Property taxes are going up eight to 10 percent.
"We've spent years trying to shrink county government, and in one fell swoop, we're going to drive more people out of the county and make the problem worse."
The tax increase bothers Mr. Cherry enough, but he believes the hike could be much higher because of mistakes in the budget.
One he pointed out is that the spending for the District Attorney's Office shows a negative $413,559, when it should be a positive.
"That's an $800,000 swing," Mr. Cherry said. "Does that mean taxes are going up 12 to 14 percent instead of eight to 10 percent?"
Another mistake is in the Planning Department budget, where the numbers don't add up properly, Mr. Cherry said.
"This budget is fundamentally untrustworthy," he added.
Mr. Cherry also pointed to new positions in the budget. The new jobs were troublesome enough, he said, but Mr. Wilson didn't include the cost of benefits that new people would receive.
"He's added so many new positions, including two support staff for himself, that I can't count them all," Mr. Cherry said.
Mr. Wilson admitted that he was embarrassed by the mistakes.
"I wished all through the year that Bill and I could work more closely," he said. "But it's my responsibility for what errors there are.
"I acknowledge them and will correct them."
Some of the mistakes might have been caused by his unfamiliarity with an ACS accounting system, Mr. Wilson said.
As for the tax increase, Mr. Wilson said the cost of employee benefits is rising almost $1 million, which would affect taxes.
Working on a county budget for the first time was a learning experience, Mr. Wilson said.
"This is just what could happen the first time around," he said.
Mr. Wilson said he has people familiar with the budget process reviewing the document.
But what happens next, Mr. Cherry said, is up to the Board of Supervisors.
"They have a real mess on their hands," he said.