Essex County Board of Supervisors
After a day of searching for cuts and compromise, members of the Essex County Board of Supervisors authorized a 2014 spending plan that comes with an $18,659,280 taxpayer impact on Dec. 17.
Members of the board voted 10-8, or 1,758 to 1,163 in weighted voting, to approve the 2014 spending plan with a tax levy that represents a 13.35-percent increase over the 2013 levy of $16,461,016. The board voted earlier this month to override the New York State tax levy cap.
How they voted
The following is a roll call of how each member of the Essex County Board of Supervisors voted on the 2014 budget:
Supervisor, town (weighted count) - vote
Gerald Morrow, Chesterfield (196) - yes
Charles Harrington, Crown Point (162) - yes
Margaret Bartley, Elizabethtown (95) - yes
Sharon Boisen, Essex (55) - no
Randy Douglas, Jay (202) - no
Bill Ferebee, Keene (90) - no
David Blades, Lewis (111) - yes
Sue Montgomery-Corey, Minerva (65) - no
Tom Scozzafava, Moriah (355) - no
George Canon, Newcomb (35) - yes
Roby Politi, North Elba (520) - yes
Ronald Moore, North Hudson (20) - yes
Michael Marnell, Schroon (133) - no
Charles Whitson, St. Armand (126) - yes
Debra Malaney, Ticonderoga (387) - yes
Dan Connell, Westport (106) - yes
Ed Hatch, Willsboro (162) - no
Randy Preston, Wilmington (101) - no
TOTAL: 1,758 in favor (10 supervisors); 1,163 against (8 supervisors)
The final numbers were down from the 15.16-percent levy increase proposed by County Manager Daniel Palmer as part of a five year plan to get the county back to a balanced budget.
“This budget still puts us in a five year recovery plan and is clearly a step in the right direction to get to a balanced budget,” Palmer said. “I know that you cannot hold this board to a five year plan in the future, but the plan serves as a template to get to balance.”
Palmer said the plan was defined as needed by the state Comptroller’s office, whose recent audit said that county had been too reliant on fund balance in past budgets.
“This increase is really the difference in the use of fund balance by the county,” Palmer said. “We used $6.8 million in fund balance last year and we did not have that amount this year. We used $3 million, but that change alone leaves a $3.8 million hole.”
Supervisors voted to cut the funding of a grader to the tune of $230,000 as part of decreasing the levy.
“The grader purchase is something that may be out through the five year plan,” Palmer said. “We have a 1974 and 1999 grader and we can potentially get five more years out of both.”
Contract agency funding was reduced $74,479 for 2014, putting those agencies back at 2013 funding levels. The only contract agency that received an increase was the Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District ($11,123).
The board also cut $16,000 to the Department of Public Works which was used for hiring a second operator, or “wing man,” in vehicles for plowing roads.
The board did increase the budget for the office of the Clerk to the Board by $12,865.
When the final vote was cast, none of the Supervisors holding key leadership positions voted in favor of the budget as chairman Randy Douglas of Jay, Vice Chairman Bill Ferebee of Keene and Finance Committee Chair and Budget Liaison Officer Tom Scozzafava of Moriah all voted against the plan.
“I was not happy with the result,” Douglas said “I was looking at nothing more than a five percent increase, but this is what the board decided on and we will move forward from here.”
“I would like to have seen this budget come in with an eight or nine percent tax levy increase and I thought it was doable,” Scozzafava said. “There was a lot of good discussion and a lot of good debate this year. A lot of hard work was done by the budget sub-committee.”
Scozzafava unsuccessfully made motions to remove funding for a bridge bond and for some capital projects.
“The bridge bonding is not due until 2015 and the $1.9 million in capital projects is something that should have been looked at more,” Scozzafava said.
The Moriah Supervisor also said he was not comfortable with doing a budget on a five year plan.
“It sounds nice but the bottom line is you cannot tie up another board’s hands with this because the budget is a one year document,” Scozzafava said. “There are going to be incentives starting next year to meet the tax levy cap which makes it a brand new ballgame. It sounds nice politically, but realistically, I do not see a five year plan surviving.”
“You can’t tie a future boards hands to any decisions when all we have control over with the budget is one year at a time,” Douglas said. “I am not crazy about a five year plan. Hopefully, we will see an increase with the sales tax revenue that can help us with that.”
Lewis Supervisor David Blades, who voted in favor of the budget, said he did have some reservations.
“I would like to have seen it a little more reduced, maybe into the single digits,” Blades said. “I know what the comptroller said in the recent audit and my concern was not using additional fund balance. There are things that may still be looked at into January which will help reduce the expenditures going forward.”
Douglas agreed that the board is facing tough choices in trying to get back to a balanced approach.
“It is unfortunate that we have used so much fund balance and that had an impact on us,” he said. “We have several years with no increases and if we had just done a one or 1.5 percent increase in those years we would be alright. It is now my job as chairman to reach out and find ways to lessen the unfunded mandate burdens, increase our revenues and do more with less. We have put a lot of work into this already and we have done some things to get spending down, but when you add things like Medicaid, which is a huge part of our budget, we are limited in what we can do. Without Medicaid, we would be talking about tax cuts.”
The levy combined with current assessment values will represent a $2.82 per $1,000 of assessed property value tax rate