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October 16, 2013

Schoharie budget plan stays under tax cap

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — SCHOHARIE — Schoharie County’s tax levy would increase by 1.98 percent in the coming fiscal year while its average county-wide tax rate would dip by 1.52 percent under a proposed budget that would also give raises to many managerial workers and some elected officials, County Treasurer William Cherry said Tuesday.

Cherry said his spending plan is a fiscally responsible blueprint for 2014 that would require no override of the state-imposed 2014 tax cap of 1.66 percent.

No existing programs or services would be cut in a spending plan that would authorize county appropriations — excluding interfund transfers — of nearly $71.7 million.

Two new positions would be added to the county payroll — a payroll clerk in the treasurer’s office and a clerk to process pistol-permit applications for the sheriff’s department. One unfilled position — a supervisor in the county health department — would be eliminated, for a net increase in county jobs of a single position. There would be no layoffs, Cherry said.

He said a recent wave of gun-permit applications appears to be unrelated to the state’s recently enacted gun-control legislation known as the SAFE Act.

Under the state’s complicated equalization rate formula, local county tax rates would vary from town to town, with 14 of the 16 towns in the county experiencing a rate decrease in the tentative budget. The varying rates run the gamut from a 6.71 percent reduction in the town of Wright to a 10.98 percent increase in the town of Gilboa, Cherry said.

Because the county is in relatively good fiscal shape despite being battered by floods from Hurricane Irene in 2011, he said the coming year is a prudent time to address the fact that some managerial workers have had only minute pay increases over the past several years. On the other hand, union employees have seen their compensation rise on average about 17 percent over the past five years, he noted.

He said his proposal would give a range of increases to both managerial employees and elected officials, with the average boost amounting to about eight percent. A small number of managers would see no increase.

The fact that some managerial workers would get increases higher than others, he said, was based on “science and math,” with one of the goals intended to address inequities and disparities in the current salary structure.

The county pay of town supervisors would increase from the current level of $12,075 to $13,041 annually, or eight percent. (The supervisors also get town salaries that are individually set by their respective town boards.)

The annual pay for county sheriff would increase by 11 percent, going from $69,000 to $76,469, Cherry said.

The current sheriff, Tony Desmond, who is running for re-election this year, had requested in his proposed department budget that his own pay remain flat, Cherry said.

The tentative budget also creates a new position of chief deputy, which would be filled by one of the existing deputies on the sheriff’s staff. The annual pay for that position would be $51,942 under Cherry’s plan.

Reacting to the plan to give raises to elected officials, County Board Chairman Phil Skowfoe, D-Fulton, told The Daily Star: “I disagree with giving raises to the Board of Supervisors.” In fact, he noted, he has proposed cutting the county salary awarded to the town supervisors.

Otherwise, Skowfoe singled out no other major issues with Cherry’s budget. “I have great respect for Bill Cherry,” Skowfoe said. “I’m not saying there aren’t things that won’t need to be tweaked, and I know I won’t be supporting raises for us. I think you will see the Finance Committee make its own recommendations.”

The vote on the budget plan would come within weeks of the Nov. 5 elections, when most town supervisors face contested races.

Given the lean fiscal times, Skowfoe said it is appropriate that the tentative budget “is well under the (tax) cap.”

Cherry’s plan would see total county expenditures drop by about $6 million from the $77.7 million budgeted for 2013, largely due to the wind down of the Stream Bank Stabilization Project.

The tentative budget is subject to review and approval by the full county Board of Supervisors.

A public hearing on the tentative budget is likely to be held on Nov. 8, but a final date has not yet been set.

Cherry said he hopes the county board adopts a budget before Thanksgiving. Under state law, the county must have its budget in place no later than Dec. 20, he said.

The county’s Finance Committee will meet with department heads and go over the tentative budget in a series of meetings that will begin Wednesday and end Nov. 7.