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Essex County Board of Supervisors head and Jay Town Supervisor Randy Douglas (L) and Governor Andrew Cuomo meeting with emergency responders in Jay before Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Brian Mann
Essex County Board of Supervisors head and Jay Town Supervisor Randy Douglas (L) and Governor Andrew Cuomo meeting with emergency responders in Jay before Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Brian Mann

Essex County looks at options for long-term budget fix

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Essex County is currently staring down an $8 million budget gap in 2013, which could translate into a tax levy increase of about 26 percent.

The county's Board of Supervisors will host a public hearing on the tentative 2013 budget later in November. In the meantime, lawmakers are looking at long-term solutions to balance the county's checkbook.

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Reported by

Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

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Essex County Chairman Randy Douglas says taxpayers and town supervisors won’t be happy with a 26 percent tax levy increase. But he says the other options on the table aren’t much better.

The county will present two budgets to the public. One will spread out big tax levy increases over the next three years, the goal being to balance the budget over that timeframe.

We're talking about reducing services, not buying new equipment that is desperately needed because we haven't bought new equipment in years.
The other budget will meet the state’s property tax cap. Douglas says that plan won’t look pretty.

"If we do that, we’re talking about cutting all contract agencies, eliminating many, many jobs - probably 50 to 75 jobs," he says. "We’re talking about reducing services, not buying new equipment that is desperately needed because we haven’t bought new equipment in years. Those sort of things are the things that we have to weigh."

According to Douglas, a three-year plan drafted by County Manager Dan Palmer would hike the tax levy by 26 percent in 2013, 15 percent in 2014 and three percent in 2015. Palmer says the county "couldn’t lay off enough people to meet" the tax cap.

The county began budget negotiations with a $13 million gap. That figure has dropped to about $8 million. Palmer says the county has had to schedule some of its expenditures for years in advance to cut next year’s deficit.

"One of the big things we did, which is not something we really like to do, is we spread the retirement payments out," he says. "The state provides that you can now spread your increase out over a 10-year period, and that’s what we did. It doesn’t really save you any money, it just spreads the cost out over a longer period."

Supervisors are still calling for mandate relief. In Essex County, nine unfunded state mandates will add about $1.7 million to the budget next year.

A public hearing on the tentative budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 26, at the Essex County courthouse in Elizabethtown.

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