At the Schenectady County Legislature meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 14, legislators discussed the 2009 proposed operating budget, which was released and passed on to them on Wednesday, Oct. 2. The proposed budget includes a 12.9 percent property tax increase. Schenectady County Legislature has until Saturday, Nov. 1, to make modifications and adopt a final budget.
The 2009 budget was the most difficult budget we’ve put together in many years, said Kathleen Rooney, Schenectady County manager, in a written statement. `This budget reflects the fiscal dilemma facing Schenectady County and other counties across New York state.`
She cited part of the budget increase as the result of year upon year of ever-increasing state-mandated costs, such as Medicaid, which are currently consuming more than 75 percent of the total property and sales tax revenues brought in by the county. This, she stated, is largely due to the national economic crisis the country is currently facing.
`Much of what we’re burdened with is a result of state issues,` said county legislator Martin Finn, D-Niskayuna.
The overall 2009 budget appropriation totals $279,994,300, which is 1.2 percent more than the 2008 budget, and reflects growth below the rate of inflation. The total net cost for Schenectady County taxpayers after reimbursements from federal, state and other county revenue sources is approximately $123 million, which is paid for through county sales tax and property tax revenues.
Balancing the proposed 2009 budget necessitates a property tax increase of 12.9 percent. That means the average homeowner in Schenectady County with a property value of $150,000 will see an approximate $125 increase in taxes next year.
Some county legislators say they are disheartened by the proposal and are working to lower the tax levy.
`The entire country is feeling the results of governmental mismanagement,` said Schenectady County legislator Angelo Santabarbara, R-Rotterdam, in a written statement. `We should be looking for ways to cut spending so we can reduce property taxes on overburdened homeowners, not increase them.`
In an effort to minimize the impact on taxpayers, non-mandated programs and expenditures received deep cuts, and strategies were implemented to control the cost of mandates that are within the county’s control.
According to information provided by the Schenectady County Legislature, some of those cuts include the following:
Proposed reductions include the elimination of 50 county positions, mostly through attrition, for a savings of $2.7 million.
About 4.5 public health positions will be cut through the integration of clinic services and the prevention unit. Contract services will be reduced by making more functions internal, resulting in a total savings of $210,000.
Senior citizen meal sites will be consolidated, as well as other integration strategies, resulting in a total savings of $200,000.
Records management information will be consolidated into information technology. The projected savings is undefined.
About $170,000 will be saved through streamlining the Schenectady County Job Training Agency.
`It’s not acceptable as is. We’re not happy about the tax increases,` said Finn.`We’re trying do what we can do to continuously pair this down because it’s going to be a burden on county taxpayers.`
County legislators, department heads, staff, unions and contract agencies are working to come up with solutions to try to balance the responsibilities of their agencies with the needs of Schenectady County’s taxpayers.
`Taxes have gone up consistently over the past many years. We’ve never seen a year where there’s no tax increase, or better yet a tax cut. We have to start working towards trying to get to that point [where there are no tax increases],` said Santabarbara in Monday, Oct. 13, interview.
Santabarbara went on to say that he would eventually like to work toward tax cuts, but that he wants to take it one step at a time.
A local business owner made a plea at the Tuesday, Oct. 14, meeting, for the county to do whatever it takes to not raise taxes.
`How much more can businessmen absorb from taxes? Not much,` said Joseph Guidarelli, franchise owner of Proforma Lee’s Promotional Products in Schenectady.
He discussed how ever-rising county taxes and shrinking profit margins have caused him to cut back on various aspects of his business significantly.
A public hearing to discuss the proposed 2009 county operating budget will be held at 620 State St. on Monday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. “