Otsego reps get grim sales tax update

Ruffles

Otsego County's sales tax revenue stabilized in June, thanks to a mild local economic recovery and some lucky book keeping, but the county is still treading water financially, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles told the Board of Representatives at its July meeting. 

Because of the coronavirus, the board met via Zoom and broadcast the Wednesday, July 1, meeting on Facebook Live. 

Ruffles said the last sales tax check in May was up 4.5% from last year, but "it was kind of a bunch of late things coming in." The first check of June was more on par with state averages, down 19% year-to-year. 

Ruffles said he was told by a state official that statewide tax revenues were down 26% in April, 32% in May and 18% in June. 

"Sales tax is down. It is just not down as much, so we all need to keep that in mind," he said. 

Ruffles said the $3.4 million yield was spent as quickly as it came in, with a portion going to municipalities under tax sharing agreements, a delayed $1.4 million payment going to a workman's comp fund and most of the remainder going to payroll. 

"Basically all of that sales tax will get us to pay a lot of our obligations and catch us up, so that is good, and we're going to keep going," he said. 

"This is a good thing, but it is not going to carry us through the next two or three months," he said. 

Ruffles said as part of the efforts to continue cutting department budgets, his office was eliminating an accounting clerk-typist position. 

"This position is filled by someone," he said. "This is not a vacant funded position."

The coronavirus pandemic and the "New York On Pause" executive order to stop the spread of the virus has hurt economies statewide, but Otsego County's reliance on sales and bed tax revenue and state aid has made it one of the hardest hit counties in the state in terms of lost revenue.   

Projections from the New York State Association of Counties and from the treasurer's office have estimated Otsego County will lose about $12 million in sales and bed tax revenue from 2020 budget projections. In response, the county has laid off about 60 workers, instituted a hiring freeze and spending limits, cut department budgets by nearly 15%, cut funds to outside agencies by 15% and canceled several major projects. 

In addition, the second part of the state budget has been delayed since May, leaving Otsego and other municipalities unsure of how much state aid will be slashed. Ruffles estimated the state owes the county nearly $6 million in past due funds. Ruffles said he continues to hear the state will wait on federal relief before passing along sharp cuts to municipalities. 

County Attorney Ellen Coccoma said she continues to hear 20% as a benchmark for state cuts, but if certain departments, such as education and health, are "kept whole," cuts to other departments could climb as high as 50%. 

"We're in a holding pattern for the next month and a half," Ruffles said. "That's a crappy spot to be in. Unfortunately, that's the bottom line."  

However, the board did unanimously approve the hiring of several employees Wednesday, including a payroll and benefits assistant in Ruffles' office and several federally mandated positions in the social services department. 

The board also approved a line of succession for Planning Director Karen Sullivan, who will retire at the end of the month. In August, the county will promote Senior Planner Erik Scrivener to Assistant Planning Director, promote Planner Tammie Harris to Senior Planner and rehire Planner Trainee Shane Digan, according to Sullivan's plan. 

Digan needs 10 more days as a planner trainee to make his one-year anniversary with the county, at which point, he will be promoter to Planner, she said.  

The board has set a special mid-month meeting for 11:30 a.m. Friday, July 17, but the meeting is tentative, based on the economic and health news during the next few weeks, Board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Middlefield, Roseboom, said. 

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