Schenectady County’s tentative $279.9 million budget for 2009, released Wednesday, includes a 13 percent tax levy increase, projected to cost residents an extra $125 annually.
The budget, which now goes to the county Legislature for approval by Nov. 1, cuts 50 positions from the work force of approximately 1,200, reduces programs and services and consolidates county departments.
The 2008 budget is $283.4 million. The 2009 budget is less because the county does not have to log $4.5 million in Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program grant money on its books. The state is paying that amount directly.
The proposed tax levy for 2009 is $68.4 million, a 12.9 percent increase. The $125 tax increase is based on a home valued at $150,000 and uses an average of all tax rates in the county.
County Manager Kathleen Rooney called the 2009 budget the most difficult one she has put together in years.
Revenue projections for next year show little or no growth in sales tax and declines in mortgage recording fees and interest income. There is also fear the state and federal governments will cut aid, requiring the county to absorb additional costs.
Rooney proposed an austere capital budget. It focuses on nine projects, most dealing with equipment replacement, totaling $2.6 million. The plan mentions nothing about an addition to the Schenectady County Public Library or renovations to the TrustCo Building on Erie Boulevard, which the county purchased for $2.4 million in 2005. The county wants to turn it into county offices and renovate the current county office building into court space to meet a state mandate to fix county court facilities.
“This budget reflects the fiscal dilemma facing Schenectady County and other counties across New York state,” Rooney said in a news release. “We are facing year upon year of ever-increasing state-mandated costs that currently consume more than 75 percent of the total property and sales tax revenues retained by the county.”
She said these costs total approximately $94.1 million in 2009, an increase of more than $5 million from the current year and $19 million since 2005.
The tentative budget itself represents a 1.2 percent increase over this year’s budget, a growth below the rate of inflation. At the same time, the county witnessed cost increases in programs and services above the rate of inflation, Rooney said.
The county, for instance, had to follow a state mandate to increase the number of corrections officers at the jail. The county is hiring 12 officers in 2009 at a cost of $563,000. It will hire 12 additional officers in 2010.
Legislature Chairwoman Susan Savage, D-Niskayuna, called the manager’s budget “disheartening” and said the Legislature will find ways to trim further.
Majority Leader Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, said county legislators will ask the state Legislature to pay for “state programs and mandates by increasing income taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers.”
Minority Leader Robert Farley, R-Glenville, said Democrats were guilty of fiscal mismanagement, saying they took “the county from a $28 million surplus, with a $45 million real property tax burden, to a dangerously low surplus with a $68 million tax burden.”
Farley added: “In order to fund their out-of-control patronage and liberal programs, they have increased spending in the county budget from $180 million to $279 million.”
Farley said he was incensed by being shut out of the budget process.
Hughes said he, Savage and a group of Democrats worked closely with Rooney in developing the budget; Republicans were not in the circle.
At a Democratic caucus several weeks ago, a source said, legislative leaders outlined Rooney’s proposed budget, telling members to expect a double-digit percentage of tax increase.
Farley said Rooney and her finance staff refused to provide Republican members of the county Legislature with any budget figures or amounts of projected tax increases.
“Susan Savage and her Democratic legislators have intentionally kept duly elected Republican members in the dark, in an attempt to control spin and hide their mismanagement,” Farley said.
Joe Suhrada, R-Rotterdam, said the problem with the budget is structural and goes back years. “The fact that we even have a PR man and an events coordinator and umpteen clerks in the county Legislature illustrate that,” he said. The county hired a director of communications this year at a salary of $60,000. Union representatives were upset the position was filled while other positions in the county went unfilled.
“No one seems to want to exercise small business common sense, which is to save up for a rainy day and stop spending,” Suhrada said.
Rooney, Savage and Hughes blamed state mandates for the high cost of government. Hughes said in a news release: “County taxpayers need to connect the dots and understand that there is a direct relationship between what happens at the state capital and the property tax bill that arrives in their mailbox.”
While lambasting mandates, the county is continuing to support the Glendale Home. The skilled nursing facility serves some 220 residents, many of them indigent.
This non-mandated program will require a county subsidy of $4.8 million in 2009, down from $7.4 million this year. The decrease is due to the allocation of a one-time payment of $5.5 million by the federal government. Otherwise the subsidy would have been approximately $7 million.
The county will also use the federal payment and another $3 million grant to offset Glendale subsidies estimated at $7.7 million in 2010 and $8.9 million in 2011.
“By 2012, the financial impact would be devastating should Glendale remain operating in the current facility,” Rooney said. “The county must act in order to prevent a material negative impact in 2012.”
A state commission recommended the county downsize 220-bed Glendale over three years to 200 beds. It recommended operations remain in the current facility, considered obsolete.
The county instead wants to build a $51 million, 200-bed nursing home. The goal is to open the facility in 2010, though state approval and site selection is still pending. The county would see an increase in reimbursement after opening the new facility, although it remains unclear whether the county subsidy will decline or increase.
Rooney’s budget message said the county was able to reduce the budget by:
* Eliminating 50 positions, mostly through attrition, for a total savings of $2.7 million. The county has reduced its work force by 250 positions in the last five years.
* Achieving $2.5 million in cost savings through changes in employee and retiree health insurance.
* Integrating Public Health clinic services and the prevention unit and reducing contract services for dental screening and the Healthy Schenectady Families program. Projected savings: $210,000.
* Consolidating senior citizen meal sites, specifically meal sites at Summit Towers and Mont Pleasant with the Ten Eyck site. Projected savings: $200,000
* Consolidating records management into information technology. Projected savings: undefined.
* Unspecified streamlining in the Job Training Agency. Projected savings: $170,000.
* Increasing parent co-pay for income-eligible day care services. Projected savings: $260,000.
* Enacting changes to child protective services, using a “best practices approach.” Projected savings: $1.3 million.