Saratoga County will have money to spend on open-space preservation for the first time since 2011, if a key committee’s recommendation for the 2015 county budget is approved.
The Board of Supervisors’ Law and Finance Committee on Thursday voted to add $250,000 for open space to the tentative budget, and also add $100,000 for grants to communities to construct off-road trails.
There has been public pressure to restore open-space funding in recent months as the county’s financial picture has improved since the previous $500,000 open-space allocation was eliminated as part of budget cuts in 2012.
For 2015, the tentative budget unveiled earlier this week contains no county tax increase for the first time in three years, and most supervisors — but not all — feel there’s room in it for open-space funding.
“It’s popular with the public, and over the years it was funded we realized a return in terms of economic development and open-space preservation,” said Law and Finance Committee Chairman Matthew Veitch, R-Saratoga Springs. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”
The committee reviews the budget and recommends changes each year as part of the county’s budget deliberation process, and its recommendations are normally accepted by the full board.
The $250,000 figure is a compromise between those who want to restore the previous $500,000 allocation and those who oppose restarting the program at this point, Veitch said.
The committee vote was 6-1, with Supervisor Arthur “Mo” Wright, R-Hadley, voting against it, citing uncertainty about the county’s finances.
“We’re just getting back on our feet. I don’t think this is the right time to do this,” Wright said.
In the past, the open-space fund was used most commonly to provide the local share when communities sought state grants to preserve farmland or establish new parks.
The county spent $4.4 million on open-space preservation during the decade the fund existed, leading to the preservation from development of 3,500 acres.
“The value of open space in our communities I don’t think was ever in question,” said Supervisor Edward Kinowski, R-Stillwater.
The committee’s recommended addition to the $306.7 million tentative 2015 budget will be reviewed by the full board in a workshop next Thursday, and could be formally added to the budget then. The budget will be the subject of a public hearing in Ballston Spa on Dec. 3.
The $100,000 for a new trails program was proposed by Veitch and approved unanimously by the committee. Veitch said the money would be used to give small grants to communities to develop recreation trails.
“There’s no doubt, from Realtors, that trails bring people into the area,” Kinowski said.
The committee voted that money to pay for the open space and trails initiatives be taken from the county’s fund balance at the end of the year.
In other budget modifications, the committee:
• Added $233,000 for new personnel costs, including an additional probation supervisor, a new road patrol deputy and salary adjustments to existing positions.
• Increased the funding to the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce for tourism marketing from $346,500 to $375,000. The chamber has argued that promotional spending needs to be increased because 400 new hotel rooms will open in the county in the next year.
“They said they need to do more promotion of the county to fill those rooms,” Veitch said.
• Increased funding to the Chamber of Southern Saratoga from $25,000 to $30,000 for a variety of programs it contracts to provide the county.
• Cooperative Extension was granted $30,000 to develop a new agricultural promotion guide.
Veitch said all the additional spending is being added with the presumption it can be added without having to increase county taxes.
“My top goal is no tax increase,” said Veitch, who as committee chairman is the supervisor closest to the budget-preparation process.