Proposed budget would end Fulton County road patrol

The Board of Supervisors got its first look at the county’s tentative 2012 budget Monday, and despit

The Board of Supervisors got its first look at the county’s tentative 2012 budget Monday, and despite hearing pleas to not eliminate entire programs and departments, left every option on the table as it looks for ways to control taxes and spending.

The Sheriff’s Department’s entire law enforcement arm, the Office for the Aging and the Planning Department are among the possible targets as supervisors consider ways to trim a 16 percent increase in the property tax levy contained in the tentative $93.8 million budget, which was released Monday.

“We are in serious trouble. We have sold everything, we have cut everything we could. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said Board Chairman David Howard. “If we do not do something in three years, this county will not be viable.”

Supervisors have to trim $3.2 million from the proposed $30.1 million tax levy in order to comply with the state’s new cap on property tax increases, 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. In Fulton County’s case, the tax cap works out to 3.75 percent, as it can exempt employee pensions and certain other costs.

To hit that mark, Howard has proposed eliminating several nonmandated programs, including the sheriff’s 25-member road patrol, for a savings of $2 million; the Planning Department, for a savings of $200,000; and the Office for the Aging, for a savings of $96,000.

Approximately 10 people came out Monday in support of the road patrol, including Sheriff Thomas J. Lorey; Sgt. Matthew VanValkenburgh, president of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Association’s Police Benevolent Association; and Peter R. Kehoe, executive director of the New York State Sheriff’s Association.

Lorey said the road patrol is the primary responder for emergencies in rural townships of Fulton County. “There are no police departments in the towns. We handle 70 percent of the complaints in the county, or more than 15,000 calls,” he said.

Lorey said the state police, which operates an 11-person station in Mayfield, will not expand coverage in the county should the road patrol be eliminated.

VanValkenburgh said the road patrol provides a necessary service to the people of Fulton County. “The current economic picture is bleak and people do things when desperate. This is not the time to cut police protection. You should be increasing it.”

Perth resident Adam Barnhart said he hates to pay taxes, but said he would pay more “to keep something like [the road patrol] in place.”

Fulton County Clerk Bill Eschler said county departments have made sacrifices for years and that any more cuts would leave the county simply as a Medicaid broker — basically a flow-through for state-mandated social services programs.

“This county has been lean in the past and has been very conservative. But with the loss of [the OFA, road patrol and Planning], that is all we would do. It is not the slippery slope. We have fallen off the cliff,” he said.

Nonetheless, some supervisors said they were prepared to make necessary cuts.

Johnstown Ward 3 Supervisor John Callery said he wants to see what the budget looks like with reductions totaling $3.2 million. “Maybe we can live with this,” he said.

Gloversville Ward 5 Supervisor Michael Rooney said he would not vote to override the cap.

The board will hold its first work session on the budget Monday, and has scheduled public hearings for 2 and 7 p.m. on Nov. 28. The board plans to adopt the budget by mid-December.

The board also scheduled two public hearings for Nov. 28, one at 1:30 and the other at 6:30 p.m., on a local law authorizing an override of the tax cap. The hearing is required should the board decide later to override the cap. Several board members said the hearing did not mean supervisors intended to override the tax cap, but that they wanted to hear from the public about the tax cap.

In her presentation, Budget Director Alice Kuntzsch said the county reduced appropriations in the tentative budget by 6.2 percent, or $6.2 million. She said federal and state aid for 2012 is down 20.5 percent, that sales tax projections are flat at $16.5 million and that other revenues are down 20 percent.

At the same time, the county is counting on the yet-to-be-completed sale of the Residential Health Care Facility for $3.5 million as revenue in next year’s budget. Gloversville Ward 1 Supervisor Marie Born said the county has submitted a certificate of need to the state Department of Health to approve the sale to a downstate company. The sale is expected to occur in the first quarter of next year.

The county has also booked $2.3 million from its reserves to help offset the tax levy. The reserves contained approximately $7 million in July.

Categories: Schenectady County

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