FULTON COUNTY -- The 2020 Budget Review Committee of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors on Thursday decided to restore $100,000 in funding to the FMCC capital project, while cutting a proposed sheriff's deputy position and a senior planner position.
The $100,000 cut to the college's capital project funding was approved by the committee on Oct. 10 during a line-item examination of expenses in the county's $94.3 million preliminary budget.
Fulton County Administrator Jon Stead said acting Fulton Montgomery Community College President Greg Truckenmiller explained to the committee on Thursday that the college has budgeted $1 million for phase 3 of the college's laboratory renovation capital project. He said the renovation will consolidate the county's lab space onto the third floor of its academic building, revamping 1960-era equipment and performing asbestos abatement.
Stead said the funding for the project included $250,000 each from Fulton and Montgomery counties and then a $500,000 match from the State University of New York system.
"So, if Fulton County reduced it by $100,000 and Montgomery County followed suit with another $100,000, then that would result in the funding dropping to $600,000, so [the college would] have to restructure the project," Stead said. After hearing from Truckenmiller on Thursday, the Budget Review Committee voted to reinstate the original amount for 2020, Stead said.
As of now, the 2020 preliminary budget projects a 13 percent tax levy increase — a $3.9 million hike, bringing the county's total property tax levy from $29.8 million to $33.7 million. But the supervisors typically reduce the preliminary tax levy by adding revenue to the budget.
The county budget increases spending by 1 percent based on requests from the county's department heads. If adopted as proposed, 2020 spending would increase by $964,289.
Stead said the Budget Review Committee asked County Budget Director Alice Kuntzsch to analyse the budget impact of eliminating several county programs, some offered by the Department of Social Services. Stead said some of the programs have state and federal funding revenues associations with them, so it will take some time to determine whether cutting the programs would reduce overall costs in the budget.
He said cutting the proposed sheriff's deputy and senior planner is projected to save about $80,000 when health insurance and pension benefits are factored in.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Wilson, the town of Johnstown supervisor, said the preliminary budget assumes all spending increases will be paid for with property tax levy. But, he said, that's not going to happen.
"We'll never be anywhere near close to that," he said, indicating the tax increase will be reduced before the budget is adopted.
Last year Fulton County passed its $93.3 million 2019 budget with a zero percent tax rate increase, leaving the average county tax rate at $10.76 per thousand dollars of assessed value.
For 2020, Fulton County Treasurer Terry Blodgett is projecting a $500,000 decrease in sales tax, $14.5 million.
Wilson said Fulton County was able to increase its fund balance this year despite spending $3.251 million of it for the 2019 budget, and he thinks the reserves are now projected to be about $17 million.
"We are blessed, we have quite a bit of fund balance this year too; we're at or above where we were," Wilson said. "We will use that fund balance smartly. We're very conservative with what we do, and we're going to continue to be that way."
The Fulton County Board of Supervisors is also set to vote on a $3.8 million capital plan in November, which would also be paid for from the county's reserves.
Stead said Fulton County will pay for all of the capital plan with cash, and none from borrowing.
"We are a pay as you go county," he said.
Some of the increased costs in the preliminary 2020 budget can be attributed to additional personnel requested by department heads.
These are the new positions sought in the preliminary budgets: a new road patrol deputy for the Sheriff's Department, an account clerk/typist for the Emergency Management Office, a GIS coordinator in the Information Technology Office, a legal secretary and assistant public defender for the District Attorney's Office.
Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino said his department has faced significant turnover in recent years due to other municipalities offering more pay than Fulton County for sheriff's deputies. He said he recently lost a captain, Michael Garavelli, who took a position with the Gloversville Police Department, Sgt. Todd Emery, who resigned, and another deputy who left for another police agency. He said he's looking to replace those three spots and add a road patrol deputy, which would bring his roster up to 20 road patrol officers.
"Having a road patrol of 20 would give us five officers on a shift, because between vacations, personal time, sick time, we have to use overtime to cover 500 square miles," Giardino said. "Years ago, we used to have 38 people on the road patrol side."
The proposed additional road patrol deputy was the position eliminated by the Budget Review Committee Thursday, but funding for the three vacant positions remains in the budget. Giardino also proposed several promotions in his department to fill vacated positions.
Stead said all of the personnel promotions and raises in the sheriff's proposed budget, and the raises that go with them, have been left in the preliminary budget.
Giardino said he's also projecting Fulton County will lose inmate revenue at the jail due to New York state's bail reform law and because Herkimer County built a new jail. He said Fulton County has been able to benefit from housing prisoners from Herkimer County, but that revenue will dry up in 2020. He said he's projecting to take in $150,000 in inmate revenue for 2020, down from $325,000 for 2019.
The county will also create an Office of Assigned Counsel. Wilson said the cost is 100 percent funded by the state, but he expressed concern the state could some day cut funding for the office and the county would be stuck with the expense.
Stead said Blodget will tell the finance committee Thursday what the county's New York state property tax cap will be for 2020. He said the baseline for counties this year is a 2 percent tax levy allowed by the state cap, but every county has different factors that apply to the complex tax cap formula, so the actual cap could be higher or lower than 2 percent.
Kuntzsch is expected to release the county's tentative budget, which include the changes the finance committee makes, on Nov. 12. A public hearing will then likely occur Nov. 25. Fulton County has until Dec. 20 to adopt its budget, but will likely do so by the end of November.