County set to OK budget; fearful of Albany fallout

By Matthew J. Perry
The Delaware County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on its proposed 2009 budget on November 25 at noon. Presently, the county has proposed a spending plan totaling $99,706,075 and a 4.97 percent increase in the tax levy, a substantial increase over last year’s increase of one percent.
Budget director John Meredith cited higher costs for health insurance and fuel as the primary sources of the increase. But the increase also originates within many county departments, which are forced to make conservative revenue projections in tight financial times. This is especially true for those that receive large amounts of state and federal funds.
“In ’07 and ’08 revenues were better; now everyone’s nervous,” Meredith said on Monday. “That affects the numbers.”
Although he described the increase as “on the high side,” Meredith stated that he did not expect much debate when the public hearing is opened. “I’ve talked to a lot of people in the business community and they expect an increase, given how tough times are. I think the board is happy about the budget, but not especially comfortable with it.”
Delaware County’s figures are similar to increases seen in surrounding counties. Sullivan County is facing a seven percent increase in addition to the elimination of 78 jobs through attrition, early retirement and layoffs. Ulster and Schoharie counties are posting roughly three percent tax levy increases.

In the same boat
“They’re all feeling about the same way we are,” Meredith stated at a board meeting on November 12.
So far, the county has only had to eliminate one vacant position in the public health department. But as the next fiscal year begins and the state’s budgetary problems begin to trickle down to the counties, further cuts in employment might be necessary. “We’ll begin by carefully reviewing all the vacancies we have,” Meredith said.
With the state facing a $1.5 billion current-year shortfall and the governor at loggerheads with members of the legislature, board chairman Jim Eisel is waiting for the impact of the greater economic crisis. An emergency legislative session, which was scheduled to convene in Albany yesterday, could have serious consequences for the county’s bottom line.
“We’ve got a roughly $100 million budget, 75 percent of which comes from the federal and state governments,” Eisel said on Monday. “We don’t have the ability to pay for all the programs we run through local revenues. And they can’t expect to close deficits in Albany by increasing the tax burden here.”
In Eisel’s opinion, the only equitable solution would be broad cuts to programs across the board of state services. “This is a crisis. I’ve never seen things this bad at the legislative level. But it’s only fair to spread the pain around by cutting programs for everyone [in the state] at every level.”
Last week, Governor Paterson’s office released notice of a deficit-reduction plan that would include substantial cuts in educational and healthcare programs. Over the weekend, Republican lawmakers stated that the governor’s office had not given them the legislative specifics of the cuts, and remained skeptical that a solution could be reached by Tuesday.
Meredith outlined how the tax burden can shift from county to state. “In the 08-09 budget, 51 percent of our early intervention program was covered by the state, the rest by us. But now those numbers are reversed, and we pay 51 percent.”
Two percent may not seem substantial until the hard numbers are considered. “Some of these are million dollar programs, and they’re federally mandated, which means they can’t be cut. That two percent means $20,000, which is pretty close to the salary for many county employees.”
With the news bad everywhere, the end of a fiscal year means no rest for those who watch the budgets. “We’ll start work on fiscal 2010 as soon as ’09 ends,” Meredith said.