Saratoga County

Saratoga County officials brace for state aid cuts

County officials are concerned the state could make aid cuts that will affect their 2009 county budg

County officials are concerned the state could make aid cuts that will affect their 2009 county budget, even as they continue their own budget deliberations.

Changes that would reduce county revenue have been proposed by Gov. David Paterson as part of his state deficit reduction plan, but they won’t happen without action at next week’s special session of the state Legislature in Albany.

“It’s out of our control, really,” said county Law and Finance Committee Chairman Arthur Johnson, R-Wilton.

The plan Paterson proposed Wednesday to cut $2 billion from the state deficit included reducing video lottery terminal impact aid to communities with VLT facilities. Potentially, that would cost the county about $550,000 in lost aid and Saratoga Springs could lose more than $1 million. VLTs are located at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway.

Medicaid cuts Paterson has proposed could also reduce revenue to the Maplewood Manor county infirmary, which already requires a county subsidy of about $6.8 million.

However, county officials expect to lobby state legislators to oppose the cuts. The leaders of the state Senate’s majority Republicans have already said they oppose most of Paterson’s plans. The Legislature is due to return to Albany on Tuesday.

“I don’t think anyone has a clue what will actually be approved,” said County Administrator David A. Wickerham.

If state aid revenue is lost, county officials acknowledge the county can draw from its $30 million surplus to rebalance the budget and not have to raise property taxes.

The proposed 2009 county budget calls for a 6 percent increase in the tax levy, from $46.3 million to $49.1 million. However, because of increases in the county property tax base, county officials say the average tax rate of $2.15 per $1,000 equalized value will stay the same next year.

Wickerham said another concern of county officials is how they will collect more than $150,000 in taxes on Saratoga Race Course when bills go out in early January.

In the past, the taxes were paid by the New York Racing Association, but the agreement earlier this year extending NYRA’s franchise also spelled out that the state owns the three NYRA-operating tracks, including Saratoga.

“We’ve been assured they will pay taxes or make payments in lieu of taxes, but we haven’t seen the mechanism for how,” Wickerham said. “We will be sending them a bill.”

At a board workshop Friday in Ballston Spa, no amendments to the tentative budget were proposed. Earlier this week, the Law and Finance Committee added more than $500,000 to the initial budget proposal, including adding two new dispatching officers for the sheriff’s department and increasing the county historian’s hours from half-time to full-time.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 3, at the board chambers in Ballston Spa. Budget adoption is scheduled for a special board meeting on Dec. 10.

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