After weeks of considering the budget, the Albany County Legislature approved a plan that overrides the state tax cap at a Monday, Dec. 3, meeting.
The $568 million budget imposes a 7.6 percent tax levy increase, which is down from the 8.9 percent proposed in County Executive Dan McCoy’s initial budget.
This is the second year in a row the county has exceeded the tax cap. A supermajority vote of 24 legislators was needed to pass the override, and 27 lawmakers supported the override, with 12 voting against it. Dissenters included Democrats Joseph O’Brien, Charles Dawson and Dennis Feeney and Republicans Deborah Busch, Brian Hogan and Peter Clouse.
Several legislators were adamant about overriding the cap in order to protect county services, like senior services and protective services. Democrat Tim Nichols said lawmakers “have to help provide these services” and added he is tired of continuously asking for “a little more help from municipalities.”
“Eventually, we’ll have nothing else to cut. Eventually, all we’re going to be is a tax revenue service to pay our unfunded mandates. That’s what county government will become. Unless we get real about our revenue,” Nichols said. “Pretty soon, we’re going to become a government that’s so small you can drown it in a bathtub.”
Democrat Chris Higgins voted against both the override and the budget, saying it is the “fifth budget in a row that Albany County has raised taxes.”
“Today, as I have done several times in the past, I will vote no on the tax cap override and no on the budget. Structural changes that I believe must be made … are not present in this document,” Higgins said.
Community college chargeback costs were also a point of concern with some legislators. Some had proposed having the county push the $10.1 million in community tuition costs on to cities, towns and villages as a last-minute budgeting maneuver. That didn’t make it into the final plan, and the county will reexamine sharing the costs.
The budget itself passed in a 28-11 vote, but there is still no word on the future of the county’s nursing home, which was a central component of McCoy’s budget proposal. McCoy proposed signing an agreement with private operator Upstate Service Group to run the nursing home, a move he said would save about $70 million over a 10-year period. Lawmakers restored money to the nursing home in the adopted budget, which drew criticism from McCoy.
“To bring Albany County to a point of fiscal stability and prospective financial health, it is incumbent for the legislature to take up my proposal on the Albany County Nursing Home. While I commend them for taking a responsible and contemplative approach to the budget they passed, I do not feel that it will pass muster in the coming months absent definitive action on ACNH,” McCoy said in a statement. “We need to protect our seniors as well as the taxpayers and accept financial responsibility by finalizing negotiations to privatize the nursing home.”
Democratic Phil Steck – who will join the state Assembly come January – said funding the nursing home for another year will provide more time for the county to look into the private company.
“I think the fact that this budget would allow the nursing home to continue for another year is a positive even if the legislature went into the direction I don’t agree with, because we have the opportunity to negotiate a better deal and not just do something as soon as possible in a state of panic,” Steck said.
Also on the night’s agenda was the passing of Project Strive, a not-for-profit also known as the Center for the Advancement of Youth, Family & Community, with a new contract adopted after a 23-16 vote. County lawmaker Republican Deborah Busch, along with several others, did not vote for the adoption due to what she claimed was the project’s mismanagement and its lack of fulfilling fiduciary requirements after Project Strive’s Executive Director David Bosworth was faced with a $167,000 federal tax lien earlier this year.