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September 4, 2013

Otsego lawmakers face $7M deficit

(Continued)

With many services offered by the county government mandated by state law, the representatives say they are effectively hemmed in on where they can look for savings.

Last year, for example, there was talk of eliminating the Oneonta DMV office, scrapping one of two meals-for-seniors programs in Oneonta and trimming the Sheriff’s Office’s squad of road patrol deputies. In the end, all were spared. But Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. said he is braced for another attempt to cut into his workforce this year.

“I have nowhere to cut,” said Devlin, noting response times to calls for service are already on the rise. The department, the sheriff said, is already among the most under-funded in the state, and if deputies are laid off, “the people are not going to get the response they deserve.”

While the Department of Social Services has a large budget with numerous employees, its services are required by the state, helping to insulate it from the budget knives that county representatives will be wielding in the weeks ahead, officials said.

Much of the fiscal strain for Otsego County comes from the rising subsidies allotted to Otsego Manor, the 174-bed county-owned nursing home that county lawmakers want to privatize.

A sale could come as early as next year, if a local development board created by the county board is successful in finding a new operator willing to take it over. Last year, the county board increased the Manor subsidy to $5.5 million, up from $3.3 million the previous year.

Still another problematic aspect of the 2014 budget is the fact that all counties, towns and cities in New York face a tax cap of 1.66 percent, according to guidelines released by the state comptroller’s office. Last year the tax camp kept the tax levies from rising by more than 2 percent. But the cap is adjusted annually based on the consumer price index.

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