Members of the community got their chance to address the Essex County Board of Supervisors Monday, Nov. 26, with many asking members to reconsider the proposed three-year budgeting plan.
"Over a three-year period that plan, if left alone, would equate to a 67-percent tax increase over those three years," Ticonderoga Town Councilman Jeff Cook said. "Count that out for the multi-million-dollar homes and you wonder what would happen with those."
Cook also said that he felt any payroll cuts needed to be made for non-union employees, not just by looking at union employees.
"We need to start thinking about everybody, not just the union," he said. "There are places to be cut and there can be cuts. There are things that are not mandated."
"I understand that some of our taxes are the lowest in the state and I am grateful for that, but couple them with school taxes that are some of the highest in the county and we are paying a lot," Harold Akey of Jay said. "The fiscal crisis that Essex County and the nation is in, we have to look at those payrolls and potential cuts."
"In my extended family, I have someone that lost his home because he could not pay the taxes and the mortgage," Diane Kirby of Wilmington said. "I do not know what the answers are, but these are families that are losing their homes. You can't put another 26 percent on the backs of these people. We need people to stay and live here in this area. How can we do this, but we cannot raise taxes."
Kirby also placed blame on the state for making a fiscally strapped tax base pay for unfunded mandates.
"I don't understand why the state does this to a county that is as poor as this one is," Kirby said.
Supervisors also got their chance to comment on the budget.
"I have watched the papers and read the emails and there is no one here that would pass a budget of this size in their own town," said Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston. "There are no easy choices, but 26-percent is not the way to go. It is going to take all of us pulling together to make it there."
"We have an obligation to make sure that we have made every effort to scrutinized all of the departments requests and considerations," North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi said.
"The easy thing to do is raise some taxes," Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said. "The difficult thing to do is look at cutting down some services and trim the budget down as we, I feel, are going to have to do. It is too much, and we are going to do everything that we can to reduce this budget."
"I really feel that we have not done our research on how we can cut our budget back," Willsboro Supervisor Ed Hatch said. "If you are not going to put on the table the Sheriff's Department, the college and the highway department, then you are not going to get anywhere. I do want to look at a three- to five-year plan on how we can get the government down to a level that we can live with and the taxpayers can live with."
"We had to make cuts in Schroon Lake that impacted people that I see every day, but we had to do it," Schroon Supervisor Michael Marnell said.
"I am confident that the board will do the best that we can to shave those numbers down," Ticonderoga Supervisor Deb Malaney said. "We need to keep this county and our towns affordable to all."
"Something similar to this has to take place," Newcomb Supervisor George Canon said. "We have to get our arms around this at some point. We can't keep kicking the can down the road. I think that we can trim this down, but something similar to this plan has to be looked at."
Board Chairman ad Jay Supervisor Randy Douglas said that his peers have been working hard over the budget season.
"For the last few weeks, we have been sharing new ideas with each other," Douglas said. "This board is discussing a lot of options to give to Mr. Palmer to put into the final budget. We are trying to find some sort of fix and compromise to help everyone and their needs. It is a very strenuous, stressful process."
County Manager Daniel Palmer started the meeting by outlining the preliminary budget as the process that went into it.
"We have to develop a plan to get us to a balanced budget or we are always going to be faced with these kinds of increases," Palmer said. "I think that it is a balanced approach to get where we should be and accomplishes two key things. It arrives at a balanced budget by 2015 and it preserves approximately $5 million in fund balance."
Palmer again addressed the fact that the Horace Nye Home will be on the county budget for 2013. Coupled with state mandated increases, Palmer said that the board will have a tough time finding any more cuts.
"The home and state mandate account for 24 of the 26 percent tax levy increase," he said. "This county has gone through this budget and paired out every single item that we could from this budget and kept services at near the same level the whole time."
Palmer said that the sale contract was close for the nursing home, but there was still a long process the county had to go through with the state before the transfer of the property could be completed.
"The contract for sale has not occurred. We are awful close to having a signed contract, probably within a week or so," Palmer said. "But we have to also get a certificate of need from the state to transfer the property, and that process will take a year. So we have to budget for the Horace Nye Nursing Home."
Palmer said that the net budget for the county had also dropped around $700,00 over the past six years.
"A net budget sorts out your total appropriations and your total revenues," he said.
Palmer also reiterated that the county tax rate has been one of the lowest in the state, adding that they are still under the property tax levy cap even though they feel they have been responsible.
"Essex County with a $2 tax rate is subject to the same criteria as a county that has a tax rate that is $7 to $10," he said. "I am not picking on them, but Clinton County routinely meets the cap and gets a pat on the head with a rate that is three times higher than the one we have. Tax rates throughout the state range upwards of $10-12 per thousand."
Palmer said that the public hearing would be reopened for further comment on Dec. 10.
"Honestly, we want to hear from the public," Douglas said.
"We hope that the budget will be voted on after the Dec. 10 hearing," Palmer added. The county budget must be adopted by Dec. 20.