The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

November 15, 2012

Budgets highlight need for mandate relief

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The Daily Star

---- — “Down to the bone.”

That’s how John Imperato Sr., president of the local unit of the Civil Service Employees Association, described Otsego County’s staffing levels. 

Imperato’s statement speaks to the harsh realities being faced as local municipalities move through the budgeting process, and the continuing need for mandate relief.  

In Otsego County, the proposed budget could trim as many as 10 positions from the county’s payroll — a situation county Treasurer Dan Crowell acknowledged would have an impact. 

“At this point, when a position is being cut, there is going to be a reduction in service,” he said.

The budgeting process in Otsego has largely been an exercise in spending reduction, as county lawmakers have carved away at expenditures. This has not been without strife, as county clerk Kathy Sinnott-Gardner and Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. have been lobbying the board to advocate for their departments, arguing that cuts would prevent them from doing their jobs. 

If it were up to Imperato, it wouldn’t be that way. The union leader criticized the board for shying away from tax increases as another way to balance the budget (or at least come close). 

And tax hikes did seem to be on the table not so long ago — at least in the mind of one county board member. Keith McCarty, R-Springfield (yes, you read that right, he’s a Republican), proposed increasing the county sales tax by a quarter of a percent. 

McCarty floated the idea as a possible means of subsidizing the Otsego Manor, which county lawmakers have opted to sell to a private company. We’re not sure that the quarter-percent McCarty suggested would be enough to save the Manor, but we commend him for putting the idea out there, and hope the board is willing to give his idea serious consideration. It could still be a useful tool in navigating what is obviously a very difficult process. 

In Delaware County, lawmakers aren’t shying away from tax increases, having voted unanimously in October to seek the public’s approval to exceed the mandated property tax cap. By law, the county must put the increase to a public vote, and the proposal must be approved by a 60 percent majority. 

Delaware, like many other counties, is facing rising employee health care and retirement costs. These fixed costs fly in the face of the idea of the tax cap, which suggests that counties need only tighten their belts to stay within the cap. 

As Imperato suggests, things are already pretty tight out here. We wonder if Albany realizes just how tight they are.