WARRENSBURG - Friday afternoon, Warren County budget officer Kevin Geraghty sat with his office door shut, and a paper tape from his adding machine extended from his desk to the floor.
Sequestered in his office, Geraghty was busy crunching numbers, making final budget reductions, in preparation for some landmark decisions this week.
The 2010 county budget, which has spawned job losses and controversy, is scheduled for a vote Friday by the full county Board of Supervisors, as they determine their preliminary spending plan under a looming state deadline.
When the supervisors started their budget cutting in the spring, the increase in amount to be raised by taxes for 2010 over 2009 was about $13 million, and it increased by millions more over the next few months - due to cutbacks in state reimbursements and revenue shortfalls both in sales tax receipts and from the county trash plant operation. Most of these shortfalls were prompted by the floundering economy.
Tax hike now estimated at 11 percent
But in the last several days, Geraghty and other county officials have trimmed just more than $2 million of an anticipated $6 million shortfall.
The latest reductions, taken late last week, include savings of $300,000 in how the county Social Services Department administers the federal food stamp program, $140,000 in health insurance savings, $1.5 million due to applying a one-time federal reimbursement stipend to local Medicaid costs, and $115,550 in additional cuts from equipment, supplies, fuel and miscellaneous costs throughout the county departments.
As of Friday afternoon, the budget shortfall stood at $3,946,000, which would represent a 10.9 percent increase in county taxes for 2010, down from a 16.6 percent increase predicted last week.
Cutbacks threaten jail revenue
Recent budget reductions included a vote by county supervisors last Tuesday not to fill two jail guard positions, which may prompt the state to decertify the county jail from accepting boarders from other counties, according to Sheriff Bud York. Such a move could cost Warren County hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue - including losing a planned $210,000 increase for 2010 in boarding receipts, he has warned.
Officials of the state Commission of Correction, which has the certification powers, are scheduled to be visiting the county jail on Wednesday.
Road patrol reductions eyed
Cutting appropriations to the county Sheriff's Department have been a recent focus of county supervisors, as the agency includes the largest non-mandated expense shouldered by taxpayers: the sheriff's road patrol.
Discussions of cutting the patrol staffing have prompted controversy, with supervisors representing the city of Glens Falls or Queensbury generally arguing to reduce the patrol, while those supervisors representing the rural northern towns argue to retain the patrol staffing - police presence in the small towns is vital to public safety, they say.
A total of $30,000 has been cut from the sheriff's department annual overtime costs of about $470,000 in the latest budget trimming, officials said Monday. Road patrol overtime was budgeted at $233,000 and will be $200,000 for 2010. Jail personnel overtime, with $215,000 allotted for 2009 total now, will remain the same, as will the $22,000 for 2009 emergency dispatch overtime.
Deeper cuts to patrol overtime could be made if organizers of special events - like Americade and the Adirondack Nationals Car Show - pay for their own crowd control, county officials said. Both of these two are held annually in Lake George.
Much of the officers' overtime costs go toward weekend duties at large events as well as police escorts for parades.
Nov. 10, the supervisors endorsed an extension of early retirement incentives for sheriff's officers. Whether this offer will end up in a reduced staff isn't clear - county officials earlier this year assumed six officers would take the incentive and retire early, but only three have done so.
One big element of the county's tax increase has been the 3 percent wage increases for many of the county workers, agreed upon before the county's financial troubles.
To date, the union officials have refused to renegotiate the contracts, and county officials have instead cut 50 or so jobs.
A joint meeting of the supervisors' personnel and public safety committees is set for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday Nov. 18, and discussion of job cuts or overtime reduction is likely to reoccur, county officials said Monday.
The latest cuts mean the anticipated budget has now been reduced by a total of $7,131,1555 in amount to be raised by taxes. About 50 positions have been cut, including the county's top executive post.
A total of $492,000 was cut from funding independent service agencies, $1.1 million cut voluntarily by county department heads - primarily in projects, services, equipment and supplies - and $4.5 million in cuts and revenue enhancement, primarily due to the work of the county budget officer and budget committee members, according to county records.
One of these cuts, which may save the county as much as $500,000, is to hike employees' health insurance deductibles on claims, but reimbursing those employees for the difference on claims actually submitted.