The Schenectady County Legislature adopted a 2013 budget tonight smaller than the spending plan previously on the table, but with a tax hike still too large for some lawmakers.
The budget was adopted in a 9-6 vote, totals $295.5 million and carries with it a 5.9 percent increase to the property tax levy. County officials had previously floated a budget with a tax hike of 7.5 percent that was widely panned by residents, businesses and nonprofit groups during a required public hearing.
Legislators who supported the budget pointed the finger at the state early and often, saying after accounting for unfunded mandates there were few options left for cuts. In fact, a package of amendments to the budget included in it a call to state lawmakers for local relief from Medicaid costs.
“There is little left to cut, which means we had to cut from non-mandated areas,” said Majority Leader Gary Hughes when presenting the amendments. He further described the selected cutbacks as “overdue.”
The amendments, which passed by a vote of 3-12, include $250,000 cut from the library budget, mostly in hourly wages, with the further caveat the Library Board of Trustees create a restructuring plan for the library system by May 1 of 2013.
“It is long overdue time for the Legislature and the Trustees to sit down and look at the overall library picture,” Hughes said.
Other reductions include the removal of a position at the Glendale Nursing Home and minor cuts to membership dues paid in the county’s law offices. Taken together, the cuts total more than $500,000. Several legislators said they would have preferred to have seen more cuts made to bring the tax hike down.
Before long, discussion at the meeting turned to the county nursing home. Minority Leader James Buhrmaster was quick to criticize the majority’s amendments, saying they ignore major issues, and called the budget as a whole a “killer” to business and property owners.
“These amendments are woefully shy of what needs to be done,” he said.
Buhrmaster argued the county should not be in the nursing home business.
“It would be all solved if we did not have this nursing home,” he said, pointing to a number of private institutions in the county he argued could handle the 200 residents.
This kicked off roughly half-an-hour of debate on the nursing home between Buhrmaster and other legislators. The Legislature in May awarded $34.5 million in contracts for the building of a new nursing home.
Other legislators in explaining their support of the budget pointed to the fact in recent years, the county has not significantly raised taxes or has even cut them. Hughes produced charts comparing the county’s tax record to that of other areas and said Schenectady has been keeping within the state tax cap’s limits “before it was cool.”
“There comes a time you need to correct and this is the year we’ll be doing some correction,” he said.
Legislator Anthony Jasenski compared the county’s tax record to Schenectady County Chamber of Commerce membership dues increases. The Chamber was one group to come out against the tax hike at a public hearing.
“We balance the need for services with the people’s ability to pay,” Jasenski said.
When asked after the meeting why he had not presented amendments to the budget, as the minority is entitled to do, Buhrmaster said being in a minority position means he lacks the resources to draw up an amendment. He added come next year’s local elections legislators who voted “yes” on the budget might find themselves in trouble with their constituents.
“We need to make major changes here in Schenectady County and that was the message that was given to us,” he said.