Saratoga County turning fiscal corner, board chairman says
SARATOGA COUNTY Saratoga County has been through some tough financial times, but things are turning around, Board of Supervisors Chairman Alan R. Grattidge said Thursday.
“Looking back to where we were in January and where we are now, I am pleased with the progress we’ve made,” Grattidge, R-Charlton, told a joint meeting of the Saratoga County and Southern Saratoga County chambers of commerce.
In the annual State of the County presentation at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs, Grattidge didn’t dispute the state comptroller’s rating this week of the county as fiscally under “moderate stress.” But he noted the rating by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is based on 2012 data, and he highlighted things the county has done this year to improve its financial position.
“They put a great deal of emphasis on communities that drew down their surpluses,” he said. “You can’t do that forever.”
The county surplus was drawn down from $30 million to less than $10 million between 2009 and 2012 to cover deficits, a practice county officials acknowledge was not sustainable.
“It’s called a rainy day fund, and it did exactly what it’s supposed to do,” Grattidge said. “We used the surplus instead of having to have large tax increases.”
Sales tax revenue started to rebound from the recession in 2012, and the county ended that year with a $10.6 million fund balance, $3.7 million more than originally expected.
“Our fund balance is still too low for a county our size, and there’s a lot more work to be done,” Grattidge said. “But it’s an indication we’re moving in the right direction.”
Fiscal relief efforts that have moved forward this year include the planned sale of the Maplewood Manor nursing home in Ballston Spa and the pending sale of the county landfill to Finch Paper of Glens Falls.
Maplewood Manor has been losing as much as $14 million per year, so supervisors late last year established a local development corporation to manage its sale to a private operator. The LDC is in the process of taking proposals.
“Having Maplewood Manor off the county’s books will be a huge step forward in closing the structural deficit that has drained our once-robust fund balance,” Grattidge said.
The sale of the landfill, approved by the Board of Supervisors this week, could yield the county $40 million in revenue over the next 20 years, since Finch Paper will share with the county revenue from burying municipal waste.
The landfill in Northumberland was built by the county in 2001 but has never been used. Under Finch’s ownership, it is expected to open in 2014 or 2015, after receiving state approvals and doing some construction to link the landfill to Finch Paper’s adjoining paper sludge landfill.
“With the county’s new financial challenges, we felt we could no longer justify having a multimillion-dollar asset sitting unused,” Grattidge said.
He said he hopes to see the first $4 million payment from Finch this year. Future payments will be tied to state approvals and the opening of the facility.
On the county’s split this spring with its economic development agency, the Saratoga Economic Development Corp., he said the county will pursue plans to have a consultant write a strategic economic development plan. The county broke with SEDC after that group’s board refused to add an elected supervisor, but Grattidge said whatever program the county starts will work with SEDC.
“We never said we’d be in a position where we wouldn’t want to work with every entity,” he told one audience questioner.
With the arrival of GlobalFoundries, the county has “world-class” opportunities, Grattidge said.
“An official strategic plan is something we do not currently have, and it’s something we need,” he said.
He also noted the county’s support for efforts to bring a live-game casino to the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, if state voters approve a pro-gambling constitutional amendment.
“The governor’s office has emphasized that local support is a must, and we’re doing all we can to demonstrate that if casino gambling becomes a reality in this region, we want one here, and we want it to build on the success that the racino has already achieved,” Grattidge said.
“The future of Saratoga County is bright, and every one of us has the right to be proud of this community,” he concluded.