Speakers: Schoharie County job cut plan threatens public safety

Schoharie County’s budget officers are proposing a $59.7 million spending plan that cuts 30 full-tim

Timothy Hardendorf pulled up to a call in his ambulance late one night and found hysterical parents grieving over a dead infant — and he was told it would take four hours before state police could get to the scene.

Hardendorf, who spoke out Friday during a meeting of the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors, decried job cuts in the tentative 2012 budget he believes would leave first-responders relying on police who live someplace else.

“When things go haywire, the guy I want behind me is the guy who lives down the road. … He has a vested interest,” Hardendorf said.

Resident after resident spoke to supervisors at MOSA headquarters in Howes Cave, describing scenarios of danger and situations where somebody could call 911 and learn nobody’s around to help.

The county’s budget officers are proposing a $59.7 million spending plan that cuts 30 full-time and seven part-time jobs.

The sheriff’s department is taking the brunt of the cuts, losing $868,616 in funding compared with this year’s budget. Because the county jail has been out of commission since the Schoharie Creek inundated it in August, there’s not much for the jail staff to do. Fifteen jail staffers — eight deputies, three corrections officers, three cooks and a chaplain — are among suggested cuts, along with various staffers in 11 other departments.

The loss of the jail has been a double whammy: The county has the added expense of paying Albany County to lock up its inmates and is not getting the revenue it received for housing other counties’ inmates.

Supervisors also have another list of possible job cuts to consider, which include road patrol deputies, staff for the Office for the Aging and the Youth Bureau.

The Youth Bureau provides services for children at a time when bad influences are rampant, said county employee Siobhan Reddick.

“They provide opportunities for kids they may not get otherwise. The youth are the future of Schoharie County,” Reddick said.

Considered the first stage in the budget process, the tentative budget developed by county Planning Director Alicia Terry and Social Services Commissioner Paul Brady calls for collecting $19.1 million in taxes, an increase of 7.1 percent over this year’s tax levy.

The tax rate itself would be even higher, an average of 8 percent countywide, ranging from 8.88 percent in Blenheim to 2.9 percent in Conesville.

Blenheim residents paying $10.58 per $1,000 of a assessed value would pay $11.52 per $1,000, an increase of $47 on a $50,000 home.

Speakers on Friday questioned the logic of spending five times more on the county’s transportation system than on emergency medical services and implored supervisors to reconsider their cuts.

County District Attorney James Sacket, one of dozens who saw their homes inundated by the flood in late August, said those who came to the rescue shouldn’t be abandoned now.

“We owe these professionals our appreciation, not a layoff notice,” Sacket said.

Treasurer William Cherry, who served as a sole county budget officer for 14 years, told supervisors he was seeing a “knee-jerk” reaction instead of long-range budget planning.

The county is self-insured, meaning any layoffs will come with unemployment payments footed by taxpayers, he said.

He urged supervisors to reconsider the cuts and give him a chance to craft a workable budget.

“Don’t lay anybody off and we’ll figure out a way to fix it,” Cherry said.

Schoharie Supervisor-elect Gene Milone said the county board should pull back the $2 million the county dedicated to help with infrastructure improvements for the Howe Caverns expansion to save county jobs.

County Board Chairman Harold Vroman said the cuts as proposed are just proposals and a lot will depend on the influence of department heads who will address the board’s finance committee starting next week.

“We’ll look at anything,” he said.

Cobleskill Supervisor Thomas Murray said he supports keeping road patrol deputies and those who arrive first on the scene when help is needed.

“They save lives,” he said.

But without a functional jail or any prisoners to guard, Murray said job losses are likely at the jail.

Terry said three meetings with department heads will be followed by recommendations from the finance committee then the full board will debate any changes and adopt a 2012 budget in December.

Categories: Schenectady County

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