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September 4, 2013

Otsego lawmakers face $7M deficit

COOPERSTOWN — Otsego County lawmakers, faced with rising employee pension obligations and requests for salary increases from unionized workers, are facing a tall order: Produce a balanced budget by December despite starting out with a projected deficit of some $7 million.

The annual belt-tightening has begun in earnest, and the county legislature is gearing up to try to wring savings by squeezing agencies that some department heads say are already lean.

“It gets harder and harder because we’ve cut and slashed everything for the past four or five years,” said Rep. Donald Lindberg, R-Worcester. “What else is there to cut and slash?”

County Clerk Kathy Sinnott-Gardner, who last year resisted efforts to lay off workers in the Department of Motor Vehicles she oversees, said the ultimate losers if services are cut too deeply will be the taxpayers.

“I will do my part to help, but I don’t think closing our DMV office in Oneonta would be good for the taxpayers,” said Gardner, who runs the Clerk’s office in Cooperstown plus the DMV offices in Oneonta and Cooperstown with a total of 13 staffers.

The grim fiscal situation is expected to be explained in detail today when Acting County Treasurer Henry “Russ” Bachman briefs the Board of Representatives on the latest balance sheets for the county.

Officials said Tuesday that the budget-balancing efforts are expected to be complicated this fall because of sharply rising employee pension obligations. Adding more stress to the financial demands is the fact that the county is opening contract negotiations with the Civil Service Employees Association as well as separate bargaining units for sheriff’s deputies assigned to road patrol and corrections officers at the Otsego County Correctional Facility.

On top of that, non-unionized supervisory staffers for county government — those classified as management confidential workers — have gone without salary increases for six years. Some county officials admit privately that the morale of those workers will suffer yet another blow if union workers get increases and they get nothing.

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