The economy might be sinking to depths not charted in decades, but Saratoga County is probably the best place to weather the storm intact.
That was the message county officials delivered to a meeting of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce Thursday, March 19, as County Administrator David Wickerham and Chair of the Board of Supervisors Arthur Johnson gave an informal state of the county address.
In comparison to some parts of the state, we’re still pretty solid here, said Johnson, who is the supervisor of Wilton. `I think we’ll recover faster than some parts of the state.`
Still, it was agreed that the challenges facing Saratoga are daunting. The county reached into its general fund for $4.2 million this year, and will probably use about $3 million in 2009 just to keep taxes from going up, leaving the county with around $25 million in savings.
`It’s the first time in memory that we’ve had to see our fund balance shrink,` said Wickerham.
He said that raising taxes is not in any plans at the moment, and called taxes `counterproductive.`
`We have always made raising taxes in this county the last option, and I fully expect we will continue to do that,` said Wickerham.
Though sales tax revenue for 2008 was $1.7 million less than projected and property taxes were down in kind, the most onerous burden for the county cannot be reduced by spending cuts or prudent budgeting.
`Medicare is, without a doubt, the most expensive item in the county budget,` said Wickerham.
In New York, the state requires localities to chip in for Medicare costs. Luckily, the federal government, which usually pays for half of the state’s Medicare costs, will be increasing the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages based on a state’s unemployment, meaning New York will likely get around 10 percent relief, or more.
The change will save Saratoga $8 million over two years, but the stimulus will expire then.
`It is solely a short-term fix,` said Wickerham.
Money from the federal stimulus package will provide a boost to local economies statewide, but there’s no telling when it will arrive, as the state still has to review possible projects and hand out the funds. The money is mostly to go to infrastructure improvements, and Johnson reminded Chamber members that there are plenty of developments on the horizon for Saratoga.
A newly formed committee exploring ways to employ green technology met for the first time Thursday evening. Another new group is investigating using county forestlands for a trail system. $750,000 is set aside to help preserve farmlands and open space.
Firefighters around the county will be needing new tools and training, groundbreaking on a new animal shelter is just around the corner and, of course, work to build a $4.2 billion microchip manufacturing plant is poised to begin at the Luther Forest Technology Campus in Malta.
Significant investment has already gone into priming Saratoga for the GlobalFoundries facility, including the construction of a $67 million waterline from Moreau to LFTC by the Saratoga County Water Authority.
`This waterline is one example of the commitment to infrastructure growth needed to support the development of our county,` said Johnson. `AMD would not be here if the county did not stand up and build the water system.`