The Essex County Board of Supervisors.
The Essex County Board of Supervisors is preparing for what many of them think will be an override of the state tax levy cap law.
Supervisors voted 14-2 (two absent) to move a local law allowing for the override of the cap onto the full board during its Oct. 22 Ways and Means Committee meeting.
However, the vote did not come without debate.
“I think that this is premature,” said Willsboro Supervisor Ed Hatch, who voted against the local law introduction along with Wilmington’s Randy Preston. “We should be looking at this budget without having this chance to just say that we are going to override the budget hanging over us, saying that we can just go ahead and override.”
Hatch’s remark drew criticism over the Willsboro administrators attendance at recent budget meetings from county chairman Randy Douglas.
“You have not been to any of the budget discussions that we have had with the departments,” Douglas said. “You cannot be a back room quarterback and not come to these meetings and then come in here and tell us what we should be doing without having gone through the budget line by line as we have.”
“I will get my chance to see the budget and comment at that time,” Hatch responded. “Right now, I have not seen any attempt to cut back this year so far.”
Finance liaison and Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava talked about the process he and county manager Daniel Palmer had been through so far.
“Dan and I have met with each department head and gone through the budget line by line, and I can tell you that there is no fat in there,” Scozzafava said. “Hopefully we can bring this down to meet the cap, but I do not foresee that happening.”
Palmer said that he wanted to meet with the board prior to the tentative budget being filed in order to go over a three-year plan to balance the budget.
It is going to be painful for the first two years,” Palmer said in announcing his plan. “We will be bleeding a lot of the fund balance. I would rather have some agreement with the board before I file a tentative budget.”
Palmer said that, at the moment, there would be a lot of pain in order to get to the tax levy cap, which he felt the county could not bear.
“Right now, we would have to eliminate 150 positions in the county in order to bridge the gap that we have in the budget right now,“ Palmer said. “I do not see how you can operate the county with 150 less employees.”
Westport town supervisor Daniel Connell agreed.
“I would expect that we are looking at a huge number of layoffs, and I do not know how you can run the county if you cut a lot of people. I don't know if you can do it if you cut anyone,” he said. “There is one department that we have met with that needs to hire two people or it will actually cost us more to run it.”
Connell and Chesterfield supervisor Gerald Morrow talked about their ability to meet the cap at the town level. Scozzafava responded by saying that it was either meeting it at the town or county level.
“The county is subsidizing many of the services that the towns in other counties take care of,” he said. “If we eliminate that funding to those programs, then it would be the towns that would be having the difficulty to meet the cap.”
“I do not think that I am going to be on the board long enough to see us meet the cap,” Morrow said.
County Attorney Daniel Manning said that the introduction of a new local law did not mean passage, but set up the opportunity for a public hearing, after which the board would be able to decide whether or not to proceed.
“This just allows us to get the local law before the board, it does not already override the cap,” he said.
“This will just put it out there right now and give us the option,” Scozzafava said.