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'Bare-bones' Schoharie County budget may still be trimmed

'Bare-bones' Schoharie County budget may still be trimmed

The public will get its chance to comment on the county’s tentative $62.64 million budget at a heari

The public will get its chance to comment on the county’s tentative $62.64 million budget at a hearing at 10 a.m. Monday in the Board of Supervisors chambers of the county office building at 284 Main St. in Schoharie.

As prepared by county Treasurer William Cherry, the 2009 spending plan could mean actual tax increases of up to 23 percent in several towns, even though the average tax rate increase countywide is estimated to be only about 3.2 percent.

Although Cherry has described it as “a bare-bones budget” simply to maintain existing programs and services, county Finance Committee Chairman Robert Mann said committee sessions that began Friday and will continue Monday, Tuesday and Thursday will seek ways to trim spending further.

“We’ll meet with each department individually to discuss their [budget] line,” Mann said Friday.

“My goal is to reduce the tax impact,” he said. “We understand we need to try and make some cuts.”

One possibility Mann said he expects to suggest to the Board of Supervisors is a $10-per-ton reduction in the subsidy the county pays trash haulers bringing garbage to the Montgomery-Otsego-Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority.

Currently the county pays a $34 per ton subsidy to MOSA, and Mann, R-Blenheim, said reducing that to $24 could save the county about $100,000 a year.

The subsidy is an incentive to haulers to keep trash in the three-county system, but Mann acknowledged haulers might try to make up the loss by passing it along in higher trash collection fees to customers.

Mann said his committee also expects to look at whether some vacant county jobs could be eliminated, or where greater efficiencies might be found.

Cherry said Friday the budget he submitted to supervisors Oct. 14 remains his proposal.

“There could be minor shifts from my budget,” Cherry said, “but I’m not making any recommendation of any changes.”

Although nonunion salaries are budgeted for an average 4 percent increase, there is no budgeted increase for county supervisors or the board’s chairman.

Except for the $21,840 annual salary for board Chairman Earl Van Wormer III, R-Esperance, the 15 other town supervisors are all paid $12,558 per year from the county in addition to various salaries their individual towns pay them.

Although Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce officials said that they expect to continue to appeal Monday for $140,500 in county funds to promote tourism, they appear to be facing an uphill struggle to convince the Board of Supervisors.

“I don’t really see that [being approved] at this time,” Mann said.

“When some taxpayers are looking at a 23 percent increase, that’s a luxury we can’t afford,” he said.

Chamber tourism officials, including tourism committee member Carle Kopecky, the director of the Old Stone Fort Museum, have argued that more advertising brings in more tourists and therefore more sales tax revenue.

“That investment might pay off in the future, but people need to deal with what’s happening now,” Mann said.

Cherry, the county’s budget officer, has recommended only $10,000 for the chamber’s tourism promotion program.

Increasing costs for fuels and decreases in state aid are largely responsible for a 5.9 percent increase in the operating budget compared with this year, according to Cherry.

Sales tax revenue declined in September but then returned to more normal levels in early October.

Cherry said Friday that it is still too early to tell whether the shifts indicate any trend that might make his estimate of about $14 million for 2009 sales tax revenue overly optimistic.

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