The Essex County Board of Supervisors.
ELIZABETHTOWN — Options were debated, votes were held and the Essex County Board of Supervisors made some progress in balancing the county budget at a budget workshop held Nov. 29.
Although nothing has been set in stone, two things were clear by the meeting’s end — it is possible for Essex County to reduce the tax cap levy from 26.8 percent to about 2.6 percent, which brings it below the state tax cap for the county, and adjustments have to be made to the structure of county positions to avoid future budgetary befuddlement.
“Personnel is the elephant in the room here,” said Thomas Scozzafava, chair of the County Finance Committee. ”The only way we’re going to get to where we need to go is the elimination of positions. When somebody retires, don’t fill it. If we don’t start reducing personnel, we’re going to be having this discussion every year.”
Scozzafava added that changing the title of some positions and requiring those county employees to take on more responsibilities would save money, even if it came with salary upgrades, because it would save the county from having to hire someone new and therefore pay full benefits and salary.
The county workforce now stands at 623.
In a straw vote, the board also agreed, some more reluctantly than others, to reduce raises for management confidential employees from 3 percent to 2 percent next year, and department heads and members of the Board of Supervisors will also not be seeing raises in the proposed budget.
Cuts would also take $150,000 from the County Department of Social Services budget and $500,000 for equipment purchases for the County Department of Public Works.
The board also voted in favor of freezing the amount given to contract agencies, like Soil and Water and Cornell Cooperative Extension, to the 2012 amounts, a savings of approximately $52,000.
As the tax-cap levy was slowly chipped away, the issue of blacktop raised the concerns of many.
Essex Supervisor Sharon Boison’s proposal of removing $341,000 from the blacktop fund on a bond that would be repayed upon the sale of Horace Nye Nursing Home was accepted by the board.
So far, a contract hasn’t been signed on the sale, but Scozzafava said he anticipates that to happen as early as next week.
Despite all the cuts, the County Board is anticipating a little help. Not previously included as revenue in the new budget was $2.8 million owed to the county by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for repairs made in the aftermath of tropical storm Irene and the 2011 spring floods.
Randy Douglas, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said he is confident that money will come in, and that it should be applied to the budget.
Douglas would also like to see an across-the-county wage freeze, which would save the county $100,000, although several board members think the union representing county employees — the Civil Service Employees Union — would never agree to the proposal.
Currently, the proposed cuts total about $4 million, and will create a new tax rate of $2.51 per $1,000 of assessed value, an increase from the current rate of $2.42.
The total proposed tax levy under the spending plan would be $16.7 million, up from $16.27 million this year. The total budget stands at $108 million.
The board will vote on the cuts during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4, and the budget will be made official when the board votes at a meeting at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 10.