The Essex County Board of Supervisors.
The tentative 2013 Essex County Budget was passed easily under weighted voting, adopting a spending plan that represented a 1.13-percent increase to the tax levy.
The tentative budget was passed, 2,077-718, during a special county board meeting Dec. 10, with the average tax rate expected to increase five cents up to $2.40 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
The budget calls for $95,000,115 in spending with $71,689,099 in revenues and $6,850,000 in fund balance, leaving a tax levy of $16,461,016.
County Manager Dan Palmer said the tax levy was decrease from 2.68 percent to 1.13 percent when charge-backs from the towns were added into the budget.
"This is the flat amount that is applied to everyone and then you look into the charge-backs and other factors," Palmer said. "If there were no charge-backs, we started with 2.68 percent. Once the town puts it as a charge-back against the county warrant, then it no longer goes to the towns. That is how we went from 2.68 percent to 1.13 percent."
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said the charge-backs would affect local municipality taxes based on the amount each had in charge-backs.
"You just shifted it from one to the other," Scozzafava said.
The nine voting for the budget were Charles Harrington (Crown Point), Sharon Boisen (Essex), Randy Douglas (Jay), Scozzafava, Roby Politi (Wilmington), Michael Marnell (Schroon), Deb Malaney (Ticonderoga), Ed Hatch (Willsboro) and Randy Preston (Wilmington).
Voting agains the budget were Gerald Morrow (Chesterfield), Margaret Bartley (Elizabethtown), Bill Ferebee (Keene), David Blades (Lewis), Sue Montgomery Corey (Minerva), George Cannon (Newcomb), Ronald Moore (North Hudson) and Dan Connell (Westport).
With only one person speaking during the public comment period of the meeting, a majority of supervisors took a chance to make their feelings known on the budget.
"We can all appreciate the amount of work that has gone into the budget process this year," Lewis Supervisor David Blades said. "I am most concerned with the future and the unknown. We can never get to a balanced budget by artificial means. It is my opinion that we are using an excessive amount of fund balance in order to make this board look good."
Blades also channelled Ebenezer Scrooge.
"Coal must be rationed if we are to see substantial cuts in county spending," he said. "We need to make those difficult decisions now, and not in the future."
Elizabethtown Supervisor Margaret Bartley said she felt the money coming from FEMA should not be used to bring down taxes.
"The FEMA money represents money that we have already spent," she said. "These funding sources will only replace money that we have already spent.
I believe that next year will even be higher. I cannot support a budget that will only put us farther behind then we already are."
Westport Supervisor Dan Connell responded to supervisors that said the board should not have spent so many years with little or no increases to the levy.
"There has been a quite a few times that we should not have gone through six years of no tax increases," Connell said. "I was here for all six, and it was a mistake. I am deathly afraid of what this budget is going to mean for us in 2014. We are so far in the hole that I am not going to make the same mistake that I made for six years running."
"I feel relying on the FEMA money is relying on money that is not in our hands," Keene Supervisor Bill Ferebee said. "Should those monies not come in, we would be left with just over $1 million in fund balance and that would have us in real trouble."
North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi said he struggled with the decision.
"I think that this is about making it through a financially difficult time in this state and for so many residents in Essex County," he said. "It's a difficult decision to support this proposal. There is no question that next year is going to be tough and the year after is going to be tough. This board needs to take a closer look at our operations and our personnel."
Minerva Supervisor Sue Montgomery Corey said she felt this was a vote of conscious, referring to the vote made on the Horace Nye Nursing Home.
"I think that this is a much bigger vote of conscious than that was because it affects all county residents of all income levels," Corey said. "The vote is weighing which is more important and how do we balance. The things that I have seen over the last week really are worrisome."
Corey also said she agreed with Palmer that a new budget process needed to be followed.
"The budget process that we have been using really is not serving us well," she said. "Our county manager was right. This needs to be a three-year process in order to get us back on the right path."
Scozzafava said he felt depleting fund balance could help lead toa balanced budget.
"It might not be a bad thing if we deplete the fund balance because then we have to make cuts and deal with the real issues," he said. "I fully support this budget and feel confident and using the amount of fund balance that we are. Tax payers are fed up with paying taxes."
"There are items in the budget I don't like but the lesson I learned in accounting is what you do one side of the ledger you do on the other," Willsboro Supervisor Ed Hatch said. "I hope that we start doing that."
"I feel this is an excessive use of fund balance," North Hudson Supervisor Ronald Moore said. "It deserves to be given back in measure to our people."
"I think we need to look at getting serious about downsizing and restructuring," Ticonderoga Supervisor Deb Malaney said.
"Its not the right budget," Chesterfield Supervisor Gerald Morrow said. "No one thought we would come under the tax cap. I have been real discouraged with what has been going on the last two weeks. I don't want to throw one shovel of dirt out only to have three come back on me. All of this stuff to me is totally ridiculous. We tell them they are doing a good job then we take stuff away from them."
When asked his feelings on the changes, Palmer said, "I can't make a bigger statement then I did," referring to his retirement from the position of County Manager.
The board also voted against overriding the states tax levy cap, which they would meet with an increase of 1.13 percent.