The county board’s Law and Finance Committee on Wednesday recommended $4 million in immediate budget cuts, including instituting a hiring freeze for the rest of the year.
The moves, which will go before the full Board of Supervisors at its meeting Tuesday in Ballston Spa, will help the county cope with what’s been expected to be a $9 million budget gap this year.
“It’s a good first step, and I know we’ll continue to look at other items,” said board Chairman Tom Wood, R-Saratoga.
The four votes taken Wednesday will carry out some of the ideas discussed at a Law and Finance Committee meeting on the deficit last week.
The hiring freeze is expected to save the county $1.5 million to $2 million over the rest of the year, as people who retire or resign aren’t replaced. Sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers will exempt, as will nurses at the county Public Health Department and the Maplewood Manor nursing home. Other positions may be exempted on a case-by-case basis.
The committee also voted to close three inactive capital accounts, transferring about $2.4 million from them into the general fund. The capital funds included water, solid waste and public safety building projects that are now either completed or inactive.
However, the county land conservation program was spared.
The committee decided not to cut the remaining $260,000 in unappropriated money in the land conservation fund, in consideration of those who have been wading through the application process.
The deadline to apply for the program’s funds is July 29, and several committee members said it is too late to kill the program, given the complexity of the process. “There’s a lot of work that goes into these applications,” said committee Chairman Frank Thompson, R-Milton.
The land conservation fund is used to buy the development rights to agricultural or otherwise environmentally sensitive lands, to prevent them from being developed. The money is awarded through a competitive grant program.
The actions taken by the committee were ones members said could be taken immediately to reduce the county’s deficit. Longer-term, county officials have said they need to figure out how to reduce the annual deficits being run at the county infirmary, which currently requires annual subsidies of $6 million to $7 million from the general fund.
County officials blame those losses on Medicare reimbursement rates not keeping up with the actual cost of providing care at the 277-bed nursing home.
Such measures as selling the nursing home or ending the county’s visiting nurse program have been briefly discussed, along with raising the county sales tax to generate more revenue. None of those changes would be popular, though, and no action has been taken on them.