WARRENSBURG - A slim majority of the Warrensburg town board defeated the proposed 2010 town budget last week, with three councilmen suggesting revoking or reducing traditional payments towards the Warrensburg Health Center's utility bills. For 2011, that figure has been estimated at $41,000.
Board members Austin Markey, Bryan Rounds, and Dean Ackley voted down the budget, seeking the retraction of support for the health center. Board member John Alexander and Supervisor Kevin Geraghty voted for the spending plan and advocated for continuing the payment to the health center according to contract. Such support has been in place for about 30 years.
The board's decison prompted a special town board workshop Friday in which Dr. John Rugge, founder of the center and CEO of the parent Hudson Headwaters Health Network, said the retraction of such support could threaten $350,000 or more in federal and grants the chain depends on to provide vital health care for thousands across the north country. Rugge also noted that the health center makes voluntary payments in lieu of taxes for their property as well as providing 132 good-paying jobs for local people.
Through these grants, Rugge noted, local people have a vastly reduced cost for quality health care that is available for lengthy hours through the week.
As the Warrensburg Health Center is the largest private employer in Warrensburg, the payroll dollars of HHHN employees is crucial in supporting businesses in town, Board member John Alexander said, noting it wan't reasonable to put the health center and its parent corporation at risk over $41,000, considering it provided services vital to the quality of life in the Adirondack region.
Alexander also said that local residents surveyed last year responded that Warrensburg Health Center and its comprehensive range of health services was the town's top asset, and it would be irresponsible and short-sighted to put the health center and its parent company at risk.
"The Warrensburg health Center has made us the hub of health care in the north Country," he said. "We don't want to throw this away."
The defeat of the proposed budget was the first in recent history in Warrensburg.
At the conclusion of Friday's meeting in which Markey and Ackley continued their campaign to cut the support for the center, Rounds suggested that a compromise could be reached if the Warrensburg Health Center could somehow lower the co-pay that town employees pay for medical appointments, and Rugge said he'd look into whether that was possible.
Wednesday, the board was again set to tackle the issue of support for the health center.
Wednesday morning, Markey said that he and other board members were considering a cap to the utility payments. He said that utility bills for the health center, fuel oil and electricity combined, had been as high as $55,000 or so annually, but last year was much lower due to energy efficiency upgrades at the center - paid for by HHHN.
Although the town owns the building that houses the health center, HHHN has paid through the years for its extensive expansions and renovations, including the recent upgrades, which have dramatically cut utility costs. The center also pays for the full utility costs of those additions, or about 23 percent, board members said.
Markey said he and others on the board sought to put a cieling on the utility reimbursements by the town.
"People need to be held accountable in these tough times," he said.
With the $41,000 utility payment in place, the proposed budget - excluding special districts - calls for $2.6 million in appropriations, reduced by $1.2 million in estimated revenue and $311,840 in unexpended fund balance, leaving $1.12 million to be raised in taxes, a 5.3 percent increase over 2010.
The appropriations, general and highway combined, represent a $17, 504 reduction from the 2010 budget, despite an increase in highway expenditures of $16,269, a dramatic increase in state retirement, and increasing health insurance costs.