QUEENSBURY - About 100 people attended a special meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors convened Dec. 10 to consider a proposed sales tax hike, and every citizen stepping to the microphone but one voiced objection to the measure, which was endorsed in concept last week by the board. More than a dozen speakers attacked the proposed raise in sales tax from 7 to 8 percent, calling for further cuts in county programs.
The show of indignation over a sales tax increase prompted the board to set an additional budget-cutting meeting for Tuesday, and at that six-hour meeting, a variety of reductions were made totaling about $700,000, county officials said late Tuesday.
Among the concepts discussed, they said, were privatizing either or both the county airport and the county's Countryside Adult Home, and selling the county's share of Gaslight Village.
They also talked about lowering their own pay, as well as the county's non-union employees, by 5 percent. The latter idea failed because it would create a disparity between those workers and CSEA union employees which have so far refused to reopen contract negotiations and reduce a pending pay increase.
The supervisors voted to not include anticipated revenue for the proposed sales tax hike in their 2010 budget, which is still under development. A state deadline of Dec. 20 is looming for the spending plan, which as of late Tuesday, called for a 7.6 percent increase in taxes to be raised.
Dec. 10, the public took potshots, one after another, at the idea of a sales tax increase.
The outcry prompted retraction of a motion to pursue the 1 percent sales tax hike and dedicate it to reducing property taxes and restore the county's depleted financial reserves.
George Weinschenk of Lake George blasted the board for constructing various buildings and undertaking projects like the county railroad, county airport, fish hatchery, development of Gaslight Village. He suggested that the supervisors fight state mandates, and demand concessions from the unions, including mandatory furloughs for employees, and make cuts to health care and pension benefits of county employees.
"You never saw a project you didn't like, now you're at the bottom of the barrel," he said.
Connie Harrington of Queensbury, suggested cutting money to the Southern Adirondack library system, mandating lower heat in Crandall Library, cutting Early Intervention programs (mandated by the state), not paying for underprivileged children to go to 4-H Camp, and ditching the senior nutrition program, which has a budget allocation of $804,000.
"People drive up in a Cadillac to get their roast beef dinners," she said, noting the cost per meal was $9 including the volunteer expenses.
Gary Flescher of Queensbury offered a passionate speech about citizens lowering their expectations so county programs could be downsized.
"We need to find a different way to meet the true needs of our citizens," he said, adding that he doubted the proposed 24-month sales tax increase would indeed be temporary.
Peter Brothers of Queensbury suggested that the county conduct an efficiency study, and compare its operations with other counties in the state. He also suggested that the supervisors eliminate their own mileage reimbursements and roll back their own benefits.
Tom Wade of Glens Falls suggested that the county declare bankruptcy.
Peter Accardi said that the supervisors should have been tougher in holding the line in granting raises to union workers. Granting annual raises of 3 to 4 percent to the unions was "ludicrous," he said.
"It's not fair to the taxpayers who are paying those salaries," Accardi said.
Many of the speakers suggested getting tougher in union negotiations.
Dave Klein praised the supervisors for the many cuts in spending to date, but warned about the growing tax burden.
"Upstate New York has the highest private-sector job loss and population loss in the last decade," he said.
Klein added that public sector workers had extremely generous pensions as high as four times greater than the average in the private sector. He suggested charging a sales tax on all boats that are docked on Lake George for over 30 days, as is done in Florida.
Pat Cunningham of North Creek suggested imposing a tax on Internet sales, which he said could raise $20 million annually.
Hotelier Dave Kenny said he was concerned that the tax hike would prompt consumers to go to Saratoga to shop.
"We don't need to give them another competitive advantage," he said.
Weinschenk warned that a sales tax hike would disproportionately hurt people on limited incomes. he said that some businesses in Lake George and Bolton had lost 50 to 75 percent of their sales in the last two years, and not to plan for the sales tax revenues to stay robust.
Jim Barrett said the expenditures around the county had been excessive, and the $400,000 fire trucks and multi-million-dollar fire houses were way out of line.
"Show some boldness and stop this spending," he said.