Fulton County officials consider severe cuts to meet tax cap

The county Board of Supervisors is eyeing drastic cuts that would eliminate entire county department

The county Board of Supervisors is eyeing drastic cuts that would eliminate entire county departments and programs in next year’s budget in order to comply with a state-imposed tax cap.

The potential cuts, outlined in a memo by Board Chairman David Howard to department heads Friday, would hit rural Fulton County in areas it has long struggled to improve: economic development, tourism and public safety, among others.

But the state has left county government little choice, county officials agree.

“My purpose here was to say this is what’s left that’s not mandated,” Howard said Wednesday. “This is what we haven’t touched. These are the things that we can control.”

With a recommended 2012 budget being presented to the full board Monday, department heads who just learned of the potential cuts said they hope the worst-case scenarios don’t come to pass.

First on the proposed chopping block is elimination of the entire Sheriff’s Department road patrol. Eliminating the department’s crime-fighting staff — which includes 13 deputies, two corporals, six sergeants and four investigators — would save the county an estimated $2 million.

The Sheriff’s Department now has 115 employees. Along with patrolling the roads and investigating crimes, its functions include corrections, dispatch and secretarial staff.

Another option to reduce the budget involves implementing either of two employee layoff plans. The first would save $301,000 by laying off eight employees across six county departments. The second plan would save $198,000 by laying off five employees across four departments.

It’s too early to speculate how the board will decide to shave $3.2 million from the budget, Howard said, in order to bring a proposed 15 percent tax increase down to 3.76 percent — which, with allowable exclusions, would comply with the state’s 2 percent tax cap. He said the decision whether to override the cap needs to be made by the board after a Nov. 28 public hearing.

“They’re all options at this point,” Howard said. “The threat is, ‘You have to reach the tax cap. You can’t just override it.’ But our point is that we’re right up against the wall. We’ve cut blood and bone and everything else. It’s not like there’s a lot of fat here to cut.”

Whole departments could be gone in 2012 if other budget reduction options are chosen. Howard acknowledges in the Friday memo that the list of options are “more severe, albeit crippling options to get down to the governor’s tax cap, if that is where the board determines to go.”

The county would see $96,389 in savings if the Office for the Aging were eliminated.

Director Andrea Fettinger said Wednesday she hopes it doesn’t come to the point where her office, which has served about 6,500 people this year up through Sept. 30, would be seriously considered for elimination.

When evaluating cost savings versus value, Fettinger said she hopes supervisors realize her department is vital to senior citizens in the community.

“Without the services of the Office for the Aging, those people would not get the services they need,” she said. “Whether it’s nutrition education, home delivery [or] home energy assistance, our agency is the place they call. And it would be detrimental to our community if it were gone.”

During last year’s budget cycle, Fettinger said the department lost three employees. This year’s budget recommendations have the department losing two vacant positions. She said when department heads were asked to find places to cut to help bring the county’s tax levy down, they were not aware that these worst-case scenarios were on the table.

“I’ve been aware that the county and the state are both in financial distress,” she said. “But I know that the seniors who get services, once they know that the Office for the Aging is on that list, will be concerned and they will probably voice their opinions.”

The county would see lesser savings of $20,435 by eliminating the Youth Bureau.

Economic development, which many have said is the only way the struggling county can get back on its feet, could take a back seat if supervisors decide to eliminate the county’s Economic Development Program. Participation in the Economic Development Corporation Marketing Contract and Mohawk Valley Economic Development District Membership costs a total of $74,850.

Another option to reduce the budget would do away with the county’s Tourism Development Program, which costs $72,318 to run.

Eliminating the Soil and Water Conservation District would reduce the budget by $40,520.

Eliminating the county’s Historian Bureau, run solely by Peter Betz, would save $6,688.

Eliminating the Adirondack Local Government Review Board Subsidy saves $3,000.

In an opening salvo to fellow supervisors and department heads, Howard criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state-imposed property tax cap, stating it has severely restricted the county’s ability to effectively manage its finances.

“Everyone wants property tax reductions,” he wrote. “However, no one seems to want service cuts. Without relief from the crushing state-mandated expenses of Medicaid, welfare and numerous other social programs, pleasing ‘everyone’ at the expense of ‘no one’ is impossible.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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