Essex County Government Center, Elizabethtown
Only one person signed up to speak at the Nov. 25 special Essex County Board of Supervisors meeting soliciting comment on the 2014 tentative county budget.
However, when it was his turn to speak, Gale Wilkins of Willsboro said County Manager Daniel Palmer’s presentation had answered his questions.
Palmer presented his thoughts on the budget to start the special meeting and received praise from the supervisors for “simplifying” the rationale behind seeking a 15 percent increase in the tax levy for the coming year.
“You have to climb out of the $6.8 million hole,” Palmer said. “We are budgeting appropriately. We are budgeting what we need and we are spending what we have to and it does not leave us with anything left over. The problem with the fund balance is it is not renewing itself. We are in a tough spot but in a few years, if we plan right we can get back on track.”
Palmer said the county has cut back on spending and staff over the past several years, including for the 2014 fiscal plan.
“Wherever we can we have cut back on spending,” he said. “Our budget represents a drop of $1.3 million from last year to this year. If you look at your 2004 tax bill, the amount that you are paying in taxes now is not much different than it was in 2004 and in many cases it is less.”
Palmer also said that based on state numbers, Essex County was the third-lowest taxing county in the North Country after Hamilton and Warren when you average in county, town, village and school property tax rates.
“This is my 24th budget out here and this is the best budget presentation I have seen,” Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, who also serves as the budget liaison to the board, said. “He broke this down to where people can understand it and see where the county is, which is not bleak but it could be.”
“Sooner or later you have to stop kicking the can down the road,” Chesterfield Supervisor Gerald Morrow said about the budget proposal. “You can’t have a tax rate that is lower than it was nine years ago.”
“As much as I hate to see a tax increase, we cannot afford to get into a situation again where we are borrowing money to pay the tax warrants,” Westport Supervisor Dan Connell said.
Willsboro Supervisor Ed Hatch countered, saying he felt the county had still not done enough to curb spending.
“This figure I can see a lot more,” Hatch said. “The problem that I have with the budget is that it is all one sided. We talk about raising taxes but what are we going to do to cut costs. I think that we need to look at that.”
If the county does not pass a budget plan by Dec. 20, the tentative budget would become the 2014 fiscal plan.