First look at county budget shows 14 percent tax increase
By Patsy Nicosia
Forecasted and predicted for months, Schoharie County supervisors got their first look Friday at a 2021 budget that would raise taxes by more than 14 percent.
No one thinks that’s acceptable—but it’s not going to be an easy solve:
After County Administrator Steve Wilson walked supervisors through the tentative $83.6 million plan, Cobleskill Supervisor Leo McAllister, who chairs the Finance Committee, pointed out the traditional line-by-line budget review is likely to come up with no more than $300,000-$500,000 in savings.
Mr. Wilson’s plan for 2021 calls from using $1.2 million from the fund balance, leaving $8.4 million available.
Using even more to lower the tax increase is one option—and one he warned against.
And even Mr. McAllister pointed out taking another $1 million from it would only reduce the tax increase by four percent.
“I’d like some direction here,” he said, with some supervisors seeming to support the idea of taking more from the fund balance and hoping they can replace it.
“Is a five percent tax increase acceptable? The 2.19 percent tax cap? Is that where you want us to go?” Mr. McAllister asked.
The answer was mostly silence.
“I don’t want to say yes to it,” Blenheim Supervisor Don Airey said in response to Mr. McAllister’s five percent question. “But look at the bigger picture. I hate it but I could live with it.”
Dropping the tax increase to five percent means finding $2 million in cuts, Mr. McAllister said.
“We’re not going to do it by cutting a little here, a little there. Something has to give. Another million from the fund balance is still five percent.”
It would take $2.5 million in cuts plus additional money from the fund balance to get the budget down to the tax cap, he said.
That, both Fulton Supervisor Phil Skowfoe and Schoharie Supervisor Alan Tavenner said, should be the goal.
“I think we have to stay in the tax cap and the revenues are going to come in,” Mr. Skowfoe said.
“I think we need to stay at the tax cap as well,” Mr. Tavenner agreed.
And that was pretty much the discussion.
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Laying out his plan for supervisors, Mr. Wilson said COVID has ruined any recovery from Irene.
By the end of 2020, he said he expects an $11 million deficit because of lost revenue, even as he warned that keeping the fund balance at a safe level is going to be a challenge for at least the next four or five years.
“The goal in this budget is to preserve our current level of services and preserve the workforce by avoiding layoffs.”
While the tentative budget does eliminate 15 vacant positions, there are no layoffs.
It does, however, essentially eliminate most of the county’s economic development efforts, Mr. Wilson said, with cuts to partners like the Schoharie Society, Destination Marketing, and Fairweather Consulting.
“It looks like we’re talking out both sides of our mouth” said Sharon Supervisor Sandy Manko, referencing one of the “options”—not suggestions—Mr. Wilson lays out for reducing the tax increase: eliminating the Department of the Old Stone Fort, Public Transportation, Youth & County Historian. (See related story.)
“To close the gap, we have to put everything on the table, Mr. Wilson said.
“You’re going to have to change your priorities because of this crisis. These are deeper cuts than this county has faced in modern history.”