The budget carries a tax levy increase of slightly more than 10 percent and eliminates 10 positions. As Chris Morris reports, some town leaders say those job cuts will hurt their local economies.
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Essex County lawmakers took several steps to get next year’s tax levy increase down to 10 percent. They used $4 million in reserve funds, nixed half a million dollars in planned equipment purchases and shed 10 workers. Supervisors also cut appropriations to contract agencies by 10 percent and planned for $1.4 million in revenue from an expected tax sale. And despite those measures, the budget still came in over the state’s 2 percent tax cap.
Supervisor Joyce Morceny of St. Armand called it the toughest budget she’s worked on in her 30 years as a county lawmaker. “I voted on things that I wished I could have voted the other way on,” Morency said. “But because of what the state has done to us . . . [Governor Andrew Cuomo has] taken away from us the ability to serve people with the services they really want. This county and any other county in the state can’t afford to continue serving services that are non-mandated. It’s going to kill us.”
County Chairman Randy Douglas voted against the budget. He’s stated repeatedly that he wouldn’t support any budget that went over the tax cap because he wanted to meet the cap next year and use it as leverage for mandate relief.
“Eighteen supervisors stated their cases for individual items that they thought should be in the budget,” Douglas said. “And as you can see, they put their time in, and I believe the taxpayers were represented well by their supervisors.”
Supervisors had cut the tax levy increase down to just 4 percent. But last week nearly 150 people at a public hearing lobbied lawmakers to restore funding to contract agencies like Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System. The adopted budget restores a good deal of that funding.
The most contentious part of this spending plan is the layoffs. Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said supervisors fought tooth and nail several years ago to save jobs at the Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility, primarily because of the economic impact of each position.
“And yet we sit here today, and we’re going to eliminate 10 bodies, people that are here right now working. They’re going to be gone,” Scozzafava said. “You got a hundred-and-something-million dollar budget here, and I’m positive there’s a lot of areas we could have made some cuts to other than letting go those 10 positions.”
Supervisors had hoped that the Civil Service Employees Association, a union which represents about 450 county workers, would give up contractual 4 percent raises in 2012. Douglas said that move would have avoided job cuts. Douglas told supervisors that he spoke with local CSEA representative Mike McGinn and discussed five possibilities that could have led to wage freezes next year. After that meeting, Douglas said he waited for a phone call from the union.
“I never received a phone call,” Douglas said. “Then I received an email stating that they were not available for any negotiations until next year. I’m done - I’ve done everything I can to get them back to the table. I didn’t walk away from anything; I gave them ample opportunity.”
Scozzafava said he was also upset with the union, but felt the job cuts were nothing more than retaliation.
“Ten people are going to suffer through all of this,” he said.
After the meeting, Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston, who voted against the budget, said supervisors could have done better for the taxpayers.
“There’s no possible way we can sustain normal increases without making serious cuts,” he said. “Sadly, we weren’t able to do it. The country is in a disaster because nobody can make tough decisions on reeling in the budget. We’re in the same boat. We’re headed toward a train wreck.”
Despite the increase to the tax levy, Essex County’s actual tax rate is still much lower than neighboring Clinton and Franklin counties, both of which presented budgets that met the tax cap.
CSEA representative Mike McGinn could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.