Schenectady County

Cuts to keep Schenectady County budget under tax cap

Schenectady County’s proposed $295 million budget for 2012 carries a tax levy increase of 1.5 percen

Schenectady County’s proposed $295 million budget for 2012 carries a tax levy increase of 1.5 percent, which equates to a $13.60 per year increase in property taxes for a home with a full value of $142,000.

The county expects to adopt the tentative budget Oct. 19. Its fiscal year begins Jan. 1. The county budget’s proposed tax levy for 2012 is $65.4 million, an increase of $966,466 from the adopted 2011 tax levy. Expenditures are up 0.7 percent in the proposed budget.

The proposed tax levy increase, which is below the state-imposed tax cap of 2 percent, is the result of cost-containment measures taken by the county over the last seven years that have totaled $31 million, said County Manager Kathleen Rooney.

“The average tax levy for the period 2005-2012 is 1.59 percent per year, well below the property tax cap,” she said.

Measures taken by the county include elimination of more than 200 positions in government, consolidation of departments, reduction of contracts with outside agencies, use of retirement incentives, adoption of innovative health care programs and containment of social service costs. The county has also depended on its surplus to close revenue gaps. It will use $9.5 million in 2012.

The county has reduced contract costs with outside agencies by approximately $1 million, according to county officials. A list of affected services was not immediately available.

Schenectady County’s surplus — or fund balance — is nearly $40 million, one of the largest in the Capital Region, said county Legislator Philip Fields, D-Schenectady, chairman of the county Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee.

The tentative budget continues these measures, Rooney said. The county plans save $1.6 million by eliminating 27 positions in 2012, including that of director of weights and measures. C. Todd Godlewski held the position until his arrest in March on a charge of felony grand larceny for allegedly embezzling $2,500 from the county. He is accused of setting up an unauthorized county post office box and bank account and diverting fines through them for his personal use, said Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney.

Majority Leader Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, said “the manager did a good job of containing costs. The Legislature will now review the budget, and I see the focus on the potential for additional cuts.”

Hughes said “my focus is to look at the revenue estimates, and I am also interested in the use of surplus in the current budget. In the past, we have appropriated more than we have used.”

The county Legislature’s two Republicans were not available for comment. Democrats control the Legislature with 12 seats. One seat is held by Conservative Holly Vellano, who caucuses with Democrats.

Other positions, some vacant or soon to be vacant, are coming from the county-owned nursing home, the Glendale Home, as well as the Department of Social Services, county highway, public health and Schenectady job training agencies, among other areas. The reductions will come through attrition, said Joe McQueen, county spokesman.

Fields called Rooney’s proposed budget an “important sign of fiscal management. It clearly shows we have been spending less than the tax cap. We imposed our own tax cap.”

Fields said the county is dealing with a situation where “revenues are not growing while expenses are growing, and we are living with the tax cap structure.” He said expenses grew by more than $2 million year to year.

“Retirement costs are growing, Medicaid costs are growing, federal revenues are disappearing,” Fields said.

The county’s payments into the state Common Retirement Fund, which consists of civilian and police and fire units, will total $12.1 million in 2012, up from $10.7 million in the current fiscal year. By contrast, the county paid $760,000 into the system in 2001.

Meanwhile, the county’s Medicaid costs are capped at 3 percent, but will still grow by $837,000 in 2012, to $33.9 million. In 2012, federal stimulus money to the county will all but evaporate, a loss of at least $2.4 million, down from a total of more than $6.5 million.

Glendale Home is seeing one of the biggest federal funding losses in 2012 — $3.2 million. The loss will require the county to nearly double its Glendale subsidy to $7.7 million next year. That amount represents 12 percent of the total proposed property tax levy.

The county is proposing to build a $50 million, 200-bed facility on Hetcheltown Road to replace the skilled nursing home it currently operates there. The new nursing home is scheduled to open in the fall of 2013 and is expected to operate more efficiently than the current Glendale Home, a hodgepodge of buildings, some dating back to the 1930s.

The facility’s annual budget is nearly $30 million.

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