QUEENSBURY -- Warren County Supervisors voted Friday to approve a 2010 budget that calls for raising $36.3 million in property taxes, reflecting a 6.1 percent increase overall from 2009.
This increase, however, is substantially higher for tax rates in individual towns -- property owners will shoulder county tax hikes between 5 percent and 24 percent for 2010.
In Warrensburg, the county tax rate will be increasing from $3.15 to $3.52 per thousand in assessed valuation, an 11.7 percent hike.
In Lake George outside the village, the increase will be 19.6 percent, according to figures supplied Friday by county administrators. Inside Lake George Village, the increase is 9 percent. In Chester, the increase is 5 percent, and in Johnsburg, the year-to-year tax hike will be 23.5 percent.
In Queensbury, the increase is 20 percent; in Bolton, 11.6 percent; in Thurman, 9.7 percent; in Glens Falls, 7 percent; in Horicon, 5 percent; in Stony Creek, 8 percent; in Hague, 11.6 percent, and in Lake Luzerne, 12.7 percent.
The budget approval occurred soon after the county Supervisors voted against a proposed temporary sales tax hike from 7 to 8 percent, which would have kept the increase at zero.
Voting against the budget were county supervisors Fred Monroe of Chester, Kathleen Simmes of Bolton, Ralph Bentley of Horicon, Red Pitkin of Thurman, Frank Thomas of Stony Creek, Sterling Goodspeed of Johnsburg, Ralph Bentley of Horicon, Dan Belden of Hague, Gene Merlino of Lake Luzerne, and Glens Falls Supervisors Daniel Girard and Joseph Sheehan.
Several of the supervisors opposing the budget said they could not support a budget that boosted the burden on property owners while leaving the county facing $8 million in additional debt in January.
Many of the supervisors who voted "No" had supported a sales tax increase as a way that tourists could help reduce property taxes and build up a depleted county cash reserves.
In a marathon six-hour session Tuesday, the supervisors cut about $700,000 in appropriations out of the budget and added about $400,000 in revenue, merely a revision of an earlier projection of revenue from electricity generated at the county-owned trash burn plant. Other "savings" in the 2010 budget were generated on paper, although no jobs were cut, and few expenses were actually trimmed except reduction in overtime.
Supervisors including Red Pitkin of Thurman warned that many of the budget cuts may be an illusion, as the county department heads have made many cuts now, but will likely be returning mid-year 2010 to seek extra money shifted to fund their operations when they run out of cash. He also warned about over-optimistic speculation on revenues.
"These cuts look good on paper, but I am concerned about the quality of our decisions," he said.
Budget Officer Kevin Geraghty warned that county department heads would be told that they couldn't come back in mid-2010 for supplementary funds or more overtime money.
But Monroe, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said such a dictate would be next to impossible -- that the county has an obligation to provide vital services.
"If a burglar breaks into someone's house, or we have more snow than we've allotted for, our county employees must and will respond," he said. "If heavy rains wash out a highway like they did with county Rte. 11 in Bolton, it's a matter of public safety, and we'll have to pay for it."
Public Works Commissioner William Lamy said that regardless of cuts of hundreds of thousands of dollars this year to his operations -- and DPW job cuts of nearly a dozen -- the county's roads will be as safe as they have in the past. This year, the county highway crews will have one person manning each snow plow, rather than a wingman onboard, as traditional.
Budget cuts made Tuesday include an across-the-board reduction of 10 percent in overtime. Other decreases stemmed from a recent demand to department heads to cut an additional 3 percent from their budgets to avoid layoffs -- and the executives responded with $385,000 or so in new decreases.
Budget reductions this year include hundreds of thousands of dollars slashed from county support to Warren County Cooperative Extension.
It was announced Friday that Extension Director James Seeley has volunteered to take a 20 percent pay cut to keep vital programs going for those of moderate income. The income tax preparation service that Extension offered last year might have to be scrapped, Supervisor Dan Girard said.
Seeley's voluntary pay reduction follows the voluntary pay cut by county Information Technology Director Robert Metthe, who offered to cut his pay voluntarily by 20 percent to save a job of one of his employees.
The county's last round of cuts, ready for approval today, includes eliminating the job of accomplished planner Laura Moore, a resident of Warrensburg.
The reduced budget also includes savings generated by the PBA union, representing the county sheriff's deputies delaying the deputies' 3.5 pay raise for six months. Other unions, including the CSEA, have not cooperated, and supervisors have said privately that such lack of consideration of taxpayers will have repercussions when their contracts expire.
A move to sell one of the sheriff's boat patrol boats was scrapped Friday after Queensbury Supervisor William VanNess reported that such an action may force the county to repay the $60,000 purchase cost although the boat is only worth about $10,000 now.
Monroe says, noting that Medicaid costs have increased about $1 million annually in recent years, and there's no end in sight. A resolution objecting to the ever-increasing costs was forwarded to the county Legislative Committee.
A meeting for 2 p.m. Monday has been set to formally set the budget, although the real budget the state will be accepting is the tentative one with today's amendments. The public is encouraged to attend and lend comment, but it will be too late to make any changes.
County officials said that January's tax bills may be mailed a little late because of problems determining the exact impact of salary and expense cuts in the budget.