By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — COOPERSTOWN — Otsego County Acting Treasurer Henry “Russ” Bachman said Wednesday he is optimistic that he county’s fiscal position is strong enough to avoid layoffs of county workers and to give department managers raises for the first time in more than six years.
Bachman in recent weeks has been developing a proposed 2014 county budget in conjunction with the Board of Representatives.
Ultimately, it will be up to the 14-member board to determine whether any jobs at county agencies should be cut and whether managerial employees should be awarded modest salary increases in the final spending blueprint, which would take effect Jan. 1.
The county’s treasury has been strained by steadily escalating subsidies to the Otsego Manor nursing home, which is being marketed to prospective buyers from the private sector by a local development corporation formed earlier this year.
The projected total county contribution to the Manor for 2014 stands at $5.7 million, Bachman said in an interview.
Selling the Manor next year — a goal that should be attainable, given that eight companies, including Bassett Healthcare Network, have submitted bids for the 174-bed facility — should greatly alleviate the stress on the county’s financial position, Bachman said.
“The Manor is the key,” Bachman said. “This is the problem in the budget. It’s not other departments or anything else.”
He noted he might have to amend his forecast, depending on revenue reports for sales tax and bed tax receipts due to arrive over the next several weeks.
“We’re still in the preliminary stage,” said Bachman, whose services were retained by the county board after county Treasurer Dan Crowell, a member of the U.S. Army Reserves, went on active duty earlier this year.
Crowell, a Democrat, is expected to return to his county post later this month, in time to prepare for the November election when he faces a challenge from Cooperstown Village Treasurer Edward Keator Jr., who is backed by the Republican Party.
The overwhelming majority of county department heads, Bachman said, have presented what he called austere spending plans that avoid any spending increases for the next fiscal year.
County Rep. Rich Murphy, D-town of Oneonta, the board’s vice chairman, said Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. was able to produce $184,000 in savings in his department’s budget. Other agency heads are also trying to tighten the belt on spending, he said.
“The more reductions we can get in a meaningful way from other departments reduces the likelihood that we will even have to have a discussion about layoffs,” he said.
Murphy said while there is considerable justification for giving department managers a salary increase, the board will need more data before making such a decision.
“We certainly can’t promise that at this point,” he said.
Over the past year, Murphy noted, the county has been hit with two major repair projects: the washout of a section of county Route 31 and the closing of a bridge on county Route 11-C caused by a truck mishap. The tab for those two projects totals about $1.9 million, an expense the county could not have anticipated when the 2013 budget was packaged, he said.