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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Legislator Karl Graves - Where are the cuts?


To the Editor:
It’s budget time for Allegany County and I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss my concerns about the Tentative 2017 Budget.
First, let me begin by expressing my unequivocal support for the team that prepared the budget proposal.  I have the highest respect for our County Administrator Timothy Boyde and our County Treasurer Terri Ross.  They have worked hard to prepare this document and deserve recognition for it. I believe they both care about Allegany County and are doing their best to protect it.  In completing this task, they followed past practice, state law and policies and procedures as defined by the Board of Legislators. They can and should make recommendations; the final “ok” is up to the legislature.

My major concern is the direction we are headed in.  The world economy is in shambles, and its effects are being felt here at home.  Luftkin is leaving.  Dresser and Air Preheater (known by other names now) are experiencing layoffs.  Our population is decreasing (now below 47,500) as people are heading south due to high taxes and lack of work.  Our sales tax revenues, for the second year in a row, are down.  Property taxes are proclaimed as being the highest in the nation.  The Governor's “Start Up New York” program, mainly due to advertising, has cost more than the few jobs it has created will ever produce.  In addition, with his ban on "fracking," the Governor has chosen to deny us the one industry (oil and gas) that’s been here for more than 100 years. The only bright spot I’ve seen lately is in Hornell and now there are rumors that some of those jobs will be heading to Canada.

There is more, but I think you get the idea. The warning signs are all there, yet our 2017 Tentative Budget includes no reduction in staffing, no program cuts and no elimination in duplication of services.  All programs, goods and services offered by the county are preserved in total.  We are also including blanket raises of at least 2.5% for all non-union employees, including appointed and elected officials, a percentage that exceeds the raises expected by many in the private sector—and let's not forget our senior citizens received no increase in social security.

Although no programs or staffing were cut,  they were able to whittle some $1.4 million from the Tentative Budget but, due to state mandates and other contractual obligations, another $1.6 million in new spending was added. I’m told our total property assessment increased by approximately $35 million; that results in additional revenue for the county. Because of the “tax cap” imposed by New York State, the county budget can only increase by approximately $200,000 and so, to balance the books, a “budget figure” of $3 million from our surplus has been included.  The end result is an average 1.8% reduction—about 18 cents per thousand— in your county taxes.

However, a disturbing trend is developing—for several years we have used "budget figures" from our surplus to balance the budget.  This allowed us to avoid exceeding the "tax cap" and to decrease the average county tax bill—the decrease was small but it was still better than an increase.  The 2016 budget included, as a "budget figure," $1.3 million from surplus.  I have been told that we have never had to actually move the money from previous years because revenues outpaced expenditures, and projections are that we will not need to move the $1.3 million this year.  The 2017 Tentative Budget's $3 million "budget figure" is based on that same hope—how can this be sustained?

Allegany County's surplus is approximately $29 million. Of that, $9-$10 million is dedicated to closure of the landfill, the Crossroads/Belvidere water line, and other commitments, leaving roughly $19-$20 million available (an amount recommended by the State Comptroller as prudent for a county about our size).

You’ve read my opening paragraph. With nothing but bad news in the forecast, hoping that assessments will increase or some financial windfall will land, is not sound fiscal planning. If things continue to deteriorate, our “surplus” won’t last long and our county will face difficult financial times such as have already befallen some of our neighboring counties. The State's mandatory tax cap has forced these counties to use their surplus funds to balance their budgets to the extent they have nothing left.

I assure you that the “Ship of State” in Allegany County is sound.  We have educated, thoughtful people in our ranks, we have a budget surplus and our bills are being paid on time.  But if you agree that we are relying too heavily on hope...if you are sick and tired of high taxes, please call or email your legislators and talk to them about it. 

A public hearing on the 2017 Budget is scheduled for November 10, 2016.  A public hearing on the salary increases mentioned above will be held Monday, October 24 at 2:00 PM in the Legislative Chambers.  Attend these meetings if you can.  Ask questions and insist on thoughtful answers. If you cannot attend, a complete list of Allegany County Legislators and their contact information appears below or can be found on the Allegany County webpage at alleganyco.com - Another letter Part 2 – regarding “duplication of services” will be coming next week.

Sincerely, Karl Graves, District IV Legislator
 
District 1
Hopkins, Judith D. hopkinsj@alleganyco.com
 
District 2
Healy, Dwight M Healydm@alleganyco.com
Decker, David A deckerd@alleganyco.com
Ungermann, Jr. Norman G. ungermannn@alleganyco.com
 
District 3
Burt, Scott R. burtsr@alleganyco.com
Fanton, Dwight R. fantond@alleganyco.com
Root, Debra A RootD@alleganyco.com
 
District 4
585-808-9525 (h)   585-593-1084 (f)
O'Grady, Timothy 
ogradyt@alleganyco.com
 
585-593-0525(h)   585-610-7286 (c)
 
District 5
Curran, Philip B. curran5@alleganyco.com
Jessup, Charles O. jessupc@alleganyco.com
McGraw, Aaron M. mcgrawa@alleganyco.com