The finance committee of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors voted on Thursday to remove all discretionary requests for new personnel and non-union salary increases from the county’s preliminary budget.
Fulton County Budget Director Alice Kuntzsch said supervisors have decided to take a careful look at all new spending in light of the state’s impending budget crisis and an anticipated decline in sales tax revenue.
“All personnel changes have been taken out at this point,” Kuntzsch said. She said they will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Kuntzsch said the county’s preliminary budget equals $100 million, up from $96.5 million in 2008.
County officials estimate the slowing economy will cause the total sales tax collected in the county to decline by 3 percent from the $18.9 million collected in 2007. State aid is also likely to be lower.
Gloversville 3rd Ward Supervisor Michael Gendron said the New York State Association of Counties warned county supervisors at a recent conference to prepare for up to a 15 percent cut in state aid this year.
“I think it would be foolish not to be prepared for some extremely bad news when [the state Legislature] does reconvene,” Gendron said. “This will probably be the most difficult budget of the 12 years I’ve been [a supervisor].”
Last year, the Board of Supervisors reduced the average county property tax rate by 0.41 percent, or 4 cents, from $9.80 per $1,000 of assessed value to $9.76. This year officials estimate the tax levy might need to increase from $21.3 million to approximately $30 million to cover shortfalls in other areas.
Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Michael Rooney, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said after reviewing preliminary budget numbers that supervisors should be able to limit the property tax levy increase.
“I’m confident that it will be below 15 percent,” Rooney said.
County Finance Committee Chairman Lee Hollenbeck, the supervisor from Broadalbin, said New York state could force the county to raise property taxes higher through unfunded mandated spending and cuts in state aid.
“When we get this budget finalized I hope we could be at 0 to 5 percent [tax levy increase]. But then on Dec. 17, when the state intervenes, we might have to go back up to 20 percent,” he said.
Hollenbeck said one area the board will likely increase is the amount of funding for unemployment insurance to help provide benefits for workers whose jobs have been eliminated. “We have to do that,” he said.
The board also has to follow state mandates and provisions in its union contracts. For the 2008 budget, county officials estimate 27 percent of spending went to unfunded state mandates and an additional 37 percent went to state-mandated programs with some state funding.
New York State Association of Counties Executive Director Steve Acquario addressed the committee members during their five-hour meeting Thursday. He told them that New York state is facing an unprecedented financial crisis because of declining revenues from rapidly shrinking Wall Street salaries and bonuses. He said the state is in jeopardy of being 30 percent short on revenues for the fourth quarter.
He said going forward, NYSAC’s strategy is to use the financial crisis as leverage to force the governor and the Legislature to reform state programs that require chronic increases in state spending.
“We’re hoping they heed the message of the property taxpayer, that they can’t afford any increases in property taxes to make up for state revenue shortfalls,” Acquario said. “[A fiscal crisis] happened in 1987, it happened in 1992, it happened in 2001 and now 2008. These occur periodically in a cycle. This is a window of opportunity for the state to restructure its programs, its mandates, its services . . . to control spending.”