Amid unsuccessful attempts at repeal, the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday afternoon set a public hearing for an amended version of the law adopted last month establishing a full-time county administrator.
The board voted 10-3 to set the public hearing for 5 p.m. March 31 at the Schoharie County Office Building.
Immediately following that vote, Fulton town Supervisor Philip Skowfoe made a motion to set a public hearing on the same day for a one-sentence law abolishing the position of county administrator, which was established Feb. 20 with Local Law No. 1. That measure failed with a weighted vote of 1,229 (eight supervisors) in favor, 1,414 (five supervisors) against and 331 excused (three of the 16 board members were absent).
Skowfoe made another motion, to hold a public hearing for the law on a different date, at the end of the meeting, but it failed by the same tally.
Local Law No. 1 authorized the board to hire a full-time administrator at an estimated salary of $80,000 to $85,000 to oversee the day-to-day operations of the county. Its adoption followed more than a year of discussion and investigation and three public hearings between October 2014 and January 2015.
Responding to criticism that the board was stifling public input by not setting a public hearing for the law to repeal, Conesville town Supervisor William Federice, who chairs the Special County Administrator Exploratory Committee, pointed to the long development process and public hearings preceding the law’s adoption.
“I think we have a lot of things that we need to be focusing on rather than venting and going forward with another public law just because we didn’t like the result,” he said. “The people have spoken, the board has spoken.”
Local Law No. 3, an amended version of Local Law No. 1, reduces the “powers and duties” of the administrator from 26 to 19, including the removal of budgetary authority. Most of those changes, as Federice has said, were aimed at reducing redundancy and clarifying the position, but some supervisors disagree with the removal of the administrator’s budgeting powers.
At issue are three duties included in the original law that were cut from the amended version:
u “Assist the chief budget officer of the county in preparation of the budget … and to report to the chief budget officer the status of such budget on a monthly basis …”
u “Formulate for the chief budget officer for presentation to the board of supervisors a long range economic outlook and strategic plan …”
u “Be the chief auditing authority of the county.”
The amended version was first introduced the week before the Feb. 20 vote. The Board of Supervisors at the time rejected the amendments, choosing instead to pass the original law.
At the board’s special March 11 meeting, Middleburgh town Supervisor Jim Buzon — who voted in favor of the original law — said he would not vote for the amended law as long as it strips the administrator of budgeting powers. With 352 weighted votes, the second highest on the board, Buzon’s vote could go a long way toward sinking the amended law.
“I think our budget officer does a good job, I’m not saying to relieve him of any of his duties that he’s presently doing,” Buzon said at the meeting, “but I feel if you’re going to hire a county manager, the county manager should have a good working idea of the budget process. I think that’s important to have.”
The county’s budget officer is currently its treasurer, Bill Cherry, who is running for a sixth term this fall. Federice said with the amended law, responsibility for formulating the budget and presenting it to the Board of Supervisors would remain with Cherry, or whoever becomes the budget officer in the future.
“Of course, [an administrator] would work closely with the budget officer in finalizing the budget,” he said, “but the final determination on what’s recommended to the board was always intended to be and will be with the budget officer.”
The board has charged the County Administrator Exploratory Committee with developing a timeline for interviewing and hiring an administrator. Federice said he expects the process to be finished within the year.