Democrats in the county Legislature’s supermajority will contemplate a package of cuts to reduce the tax levy in the proposed 2013 county budget but are likely to pass a spending plan that still exceeds the state-mandated cap, a legislator said.
Majority speaker Gary Hughes believes the Democrats will have enough votes to adopt a budget that carries less of a burden on taxpayers, but will still increase the tax levy more than the 2.95 percent allowed under the state’s tax cap. He declined to discuss what the levy would be if the amendment is adopted or where the budget would be trimmed, other than to say the cuts will pertain to both services and personnel.
“There will certainly be some changes in some aspects of county government,” he said Monday.
County legislators are expected to take up the amendment during a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. today. The Legislature still has until the end of the month to pass the budget and could conceivably put off a vote until later this week or early next week.
Still, Hughes anticipates there being enough support among legislators to pass an amended spending plan. He acknowledged the budget process has been difficult this year, due to the mounting pressure to keep tax increases low and the increase in demand for county services amid the still-sluggish economy,
“You have a lot of factors coming into this year’s budget,” he said.
Reducing the tax levy increase by 1 percent requires roughly $644,000 in cuts, meaning the Legislature would need to shed more than $2.92 million to come in beneath the cap. Some county officials claim state mandates make up about 78 percent of the $296 million spending plan, meaning they would need to cut popular human services and programs to substantially drop the tax levy.
James Buhrmaster, the Legislature’s lone Republican, doesn’t intend to support a budget that exceeds the tax cap and plans to oppose the rumored 5.9 percent tax levy increase he’s heard the majority will propose today. He said the increase is still more than most residents will be able to handle, especially in the city, where a 4.18 percent increase was initially proposed.
“That’s still unacceptable and it should be unacceptable,” he said. “Anyone who is in business — and in particular in the city — it’s a killer.”
Buhrmaster also won’t be submitting any amendments to the budget as the minority has done in past years. This is largely because he doesn’t believe anyone among the Legislature’s 13 Democrats and one Conservative would second his changes, allowing the full body to vote on them.
Buhrmaster has suggested presenting a 5 percent cut across the board to all county departments. He’s also advocated for either selling or privatizing the county nursing home so that a large budgetary drain could be stopped.
Buhrmaster speculated the budget vote could be close, considering the dissension he’s heard from the majority caucus. He said some legislators understand they can’t present such a marked increase in taxes at this time.
“There are a lot of people who know this is not something we can do,” he said. “We have got to start paring away at the size of our Schenectady County government,” he said.