COOPERSTOWN _ For the second year in a row, the Otsego County Board of Representatives has refused to adopt a county budget.

The $111.7 million spending plan would have reduced appropriations by more than $4 million from the 2008 budget and would have increased the tax levy only about 0.12 percent, but after much discussion at Wednesday's board meeting, nine of 14 representatives voted against it.

Despite the defeat, the plan will become the county's official 2009 budget unless there is another vote by the state-imposed Dec. 20 deadline.

The weighted vote on the budget was 2,322 ayes to 3,845 nays, with Reps. Greg Relic, R-Unadilla; board Chairman James Powers, R-Butternuts; Richard Murphy, D-Oneonta; Betty Anne Schwerd, R-Burlington; and Katherine Stuligross, D-Oneonta, supporting the measure.

Just before the vote was taken, Rep. Donald Lindberg, R-Worcester, questioned county Treasurer and Budget Officer Myrna Thayne about the finances of Otsego Manor, the county's nursing home.

Lindberg said he was concerned that the board was using payments recently promised by and received from the state and federal governments for the Manor to balance the 2009 budget, rather than saving some of for 2010 and beyond.

He also asked what happened to a $4 million fund balance the county had maintained until a few months ago. Thayne answered that ``department heads had a spending frenzy,'' and only about $1 million of it was left.

After the meeting, Powers noted that the money spent by department heads had been in the 2008 budget.

``The fact is, after all the spending, we still saved $1 million,'' he said.

Rep. Marti Stayton, D-Oneonta, said she voted against the budget because, in her opinion, it does not include adequate reserve funds.

As part of this budget, the board had decided not to continue a program of building up its workers' compensation insurance reserve fund, she noted.

``We're gambling that we won't have a crisis, a bridge collapse, and I think that's poor planning,'' she said.

Rep. Scott Harrington, R-Oneonta, said his nay vote also was influenced by the reserve fund issue, although after casting his vote, he was having second thoughts about it.

Rep. Kathy Clark, R-Otego, said she had been wavering on the budget, but voted "no" because she didn't believe the board went far enough to trim appropriations and prepare for what may be a very bleak upcoming year.

``With what's happening at the state and federal level, I don't think we did enough,'' she said.

Two representatives who declined to be named said they believe the vote showed a lack of confidence in the accuracy of revenue projections.

After the meeting, Thayne said of the vote, ``It shows some of the representatives don't want to be fiscally responsible.''

Before the budget vote, the tentative budget was amended to purchase a car each for the probation and social services departments. The new cars will remain in the tentative budget.

The county is operating on a tentative budget because last year, the 2008 budget suffered the same fate, as a majority of representatives refused to support it.

The year before that, the 2007 budget was approved, but weeks later, county officials discovered it inadvertently raised taxes more than 20 percent. That budget later was amended, with state approval, and rebates were sent out to taxpayers.

On Wednesday afternoon, Powers said he was disappointed in the fate of the 2009 budget because board members, Thayne and the Treasurer's Office staff had worked hard to produce a responsible plan that had nearly no tax hike.

``Everybody had a hand in it and it was a very open process,'' he said. ``Of course, we always knew this was a possibility, so we had to have the best tentative budget we could.''

Although he could bring the budget to another vote, he will not do so unless it seems likely the budget will pass, Powers said.

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the next board meeting was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22, too late for a budget vote.

Recommended for you