COOPERSTOWN — Otsego County Acting Treasurer Russ Bachman urged county lawmakers this week to consider raising taxes above the state-imposed two percent cap, citing what he sees as a “very difficult” budget preparation season for the 2014 fiscal plan.
Balancing the budget, he said, will likely take a combination of three steps: cutting costs, dipping into existing reserve fund balances and raising taxes above the two percent cap.
While the county has set up a local development corporation to sell the debt-ridden Otsego Manor nursing home, Bachman said the strain from subsidizing the Manor continues to impact the county’s bottom line.
In Albany, meanwhile, the Cuomo administration has been pushing a plan that would allow Las Vegas-style casinos to open in several locations upstate. While officials said Otsego County is not under consideration for a site, it could end up getting some revenue if state voters approve the plan and new casinos go into operation.
The chairwoman of the Board of Representatives, Rep. Kathleen Clark, R-Otego, said she asked Cuomo’s regional representative whose territory includes Otsego County, Sonny Greco, whether the county would reap any payments from the casino operations.
“You will get something, but I’m not sure how much,” Clark quoted Greco as saying.
In response to Bachman’s call to consider boosting taxes, Rep. Betty Anne Schwerd, R-Burlington, noted that more than 60 tax-delinquent properties from throughout the county will be offered at auction on Aug. 14 after their owners were unable to pay taxes for three straight years.
“I don’t think we should be looking at raising taxes,” said Schwerd. “I think that should be our last option.”
In another financial setback, county lawmakers learned from Building Director Douglas Czerkies that it will cost about $76,000 to replace the water-heating system at the Otsego Manor, after two tanks began leaking recently. If the facility ends up with no hot water, Czerkies said, the state Health Department could require that all 174 patients there be relocated.
“To me, it’s an emergency,” said Czerkies. The board members later authorized the expenditure for the purchase of new hot water tanks that Czerkies said will be more efficient.
The board also authorized using $300,000 in contingency funds to begin the repair of County Highway 31, which was badly damaged by a mudslide last Friday amid torrential rains. County Highway Superintendent Ron Tiderencel said he remains hopeful that the project will be eligible for federal disaster assistance, though it probably will not be known for at least a week if that will be the case.
Tiderencel said he wants to have the road — which has been closed indefinitely — reopened by the end of August.
Rep. Keith McCarty, R-Springfield, the chairman of the county Public Works Committee, said the problem of road-bank erosion has been exacerbated by the cutting of trees during the construction of homes.
“Three feet of dirt is not going to stay there if there is nothing binding it there,” he said.
Tiderencel noted problems from runoff has intensified in recent years. But he noted the county was “really lucky” to escape the type of devastation that flooding caused in Herkimer County.
The board gave Tiderencel the authority to shift an additional $200,000 from his road-resurfacing budget into the Route 31 project if that amount is needed to complete the job. If the federal government agrees to reimburse the county for the expense, the money will be restored, McCarty said.