County could end 2020 $10 million in the red


By Patsy Nicosia

Without COVID-19 relief from the feds, Schoharie County expects to end 2020 $10 million in the red.
That’s the financial forecast Schoharie County Administrator Steve Wilson had for supervisors Friday.
Even offsetting it with as much as half of the approximately $18 million fund balance—with many cuts in state aid likely to be permanent and 2021 just around the corner, that’s as far as Mr. Wilson is willing to go—that still leaves supervisors $1 million short.
And looking at layoffs.
New York State released its first quarterly budget update on August 13 and the numbers are grave, not the 20 percent in cuts some had forecast, but at 13.7 percent, bad enough.
Mr. Wilson said he’s expecting a 20 percent drip in property tax revenues, something that’s always an issue, “But this year, cash flow is going to be a problem.”
Sales tax figures are down 16 percent for July, and though there’s still some hope it can be held in some form, the budget is also short the $293,000 supervisors had expected from the county auction.
“We’ve been struggling all year,” Mr. Wilson said, in part because the temporary furlough and hiring freeze netted less savings than expected, $3.8 million in total; minus payroll, the county spends $5 million a month—and has just $5.1 million to get it to 2021.
The county could come up with some of that by tapping into the fund balance and could move some money within—but not out of—the $5.2 million Highway Fund Balance.
What else is there to do?
Strategies Mr. Wilson floated Friday included:
_ Cutting 10 percent--$1.5 million--from fourth quarter spending and taking $9,733,000 from the fund balance, a step he said would mean service cuts.
_ Permanent layoffs of 40-50 employees along with $8,720,000 from the fund balance.
The job cuts would mean a savings of $500,000 in 2020, Mr. Wilson said, “not a lot of bang for the buck,” especially considering its impact on things like retail and the fact the county is such a large local employer.
The impact in 2021, when finances are expected to be at least as bad, however, would be about $2 million.
_ The spending and workforce cuts along with about $10,234,000 from the fund balance.
_ Covering all of the remaining 2020 costs with the “discretionary” part of the fund balance.
“These are the kinds of decisions coming at you,” Mr. Wilson told supervisors.
“You can hold fast, make no changes, use the fund balance and perhaps we get a rescue play. Maybe the election will cause that or even before the election…It’s an update. I urge you to think very seriously about county government.”
All of this is especially relevant as supervisors begin work on their 2021 town budgets without the sales tax numbers they need.
Fulton Supervisor Phil Skowfoe said he’s optimistic “the feds are going to step up to the plate.
“What we have is doom and gloom,” he said. “That’s what you’re putting out there. This is when you have to step up and be positive.”
Cobleskill Supervisor Leo McAllister said they’re all going to have do the best they can.
“We’re all going to have to put our budgets together and not have the answers,” he said. “Take 10 percent off and go from there.”
Mr. Wilson said Saturday that he thinks the best decision will be a balancing act that doesn’t raise taxes or mean layoffs, maybe in part through a “serious” hiring freeze.
It took a decade for the county to claw its way back from Hurricane Irene, he pointed out, a place no one wants to revisit.
“In my mind, anything we need to do everything we can to lessen the impact, everything we can to not cause the same kind of economic devastation.”