More than 100 people packed into the Old Courthouse at the Essex County Government Center with a request that some may not have expected to hear.
Raise our taxes.
A total of 24 people spoke at the 2012 county budget hearing Monday, Dec. 5, with most asking for the Essex County Board of Supervisors to reinstate funding for a number of programs, including the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Adirondack Harvest and the Adirondack Regional Airport.
A number of programs were either partially or completely cut in the proposed budget brought to the board by the county budget committee, which also included the use of $4 million in fund balance and the elimination of 30 county positions.
“We need to support you when it comes to the tough decisions to raise taxes in order to provide those services,” Gordon Davis of Westport said. “These are difficult times that we are living through, and you are struggling with these difficult decisions. I admire you for the way that you are tackling this. The truth is government services cost money.”
Each speaker received a round of applause from those who packed into the courthouse as they spoke about contract agencies and county employees who could be facing layoffs.
“I’m all right with seeing my taxes raised $90 and leave it the way that it is,” Jim Hotaling, a county employee from Willsboro, said about the proposal to cut 30 jobs from the budget as recommended by the county budget committee. “In my department, the cuts would get rid of two positions, cutting us from seven people to five.”
Essex County CSEA President Michael McGinn also spoke, asking the board to take a closer look at the budget in order to avoid layoffs. McGinn added that he felt the union had attempted to bargain in good faith.
“We did meet with the county in November and talks did break down,” McGinn said. “The county walked away from the table, but I am willing to sit down again. But I really want you to look at this budget if you are going to start to take jobs away.”
McGinn said that he felt county cars for employees could be done away with and that the county should override the 2 percent tax cap if it meant jobs would be saved.
County Chairman Randall “Randy” Douglas responded to McGinn’s remarks with an invitation.
“The last time that we heard from the union, it was a letter that read that you were not authorized to re-open the contract negotiation,” Douglas said. “I’m willing to meet with you, Mike, and talk about the employee contract and negotiate. I will be in my office tomorrow morning and I hope that you will attend.”
“I plan to be there and take that challenge,” McGinn said. “I will be open to hear what they have to say.”
Other supervisors also chimed in on the union contract, which they have asked be reopened to look at the possibility of a pay freeze.
“I am hopeful that the union will take (Douglas) up on the offer,” Moriah Supervisor Thomas “Tom” Scozzafava said. “I believe that this county has been more than fair to the union and I do not think that it is unfair to ask the union to take a pay freeze for a year in order to save these 30 jobs.”
“I have to say that I believe the union is being selfish,” Keene Supervisor William “Bill” Ferebee said. “They need to come back to the table and take into consideration all of the employees that they are representing.”
Douglas also said that he felt that while he feels Gov. Andrew Cuomo is doing good things for the economy, he feels there is one area that needs to be addressed.
“We would not be having any of these conversations if the state took over Medicaid,” Douglas said. “There are only two states in the country that let Medicaid trickle down to the counties, here and California. We spend $7 million on Medicaid in this county, and if we had that $7 million to spend elsewhere, we would not be having any of these conversations.”
However, several supervisors said that the reality of the situation presented tough choices.
“This whole process has been very challenging,” Minerva Supervisor Sue Montgomery-Corey said. “I hate the fact that we are looking at layoffs. The decisions that we are being asked to make are downright heartbreaking.”
Following the public hearing, the board decided to meet again Monday, Dec. 12, at 11:30 a.m. to further look at the budget. The county budget has to be approved by the board on or before Dec. 20.