The county pays contractor Serkil LLC $50.25 a ton and $510,000 in annual maintenance costs, the audit said, then charges towns a flat $55.25 a ton for trash disposal, resulting in deficits for the county.
The audit’s overall recommendations were: adopting structurally balanced budgets, setting adequate tipping fees and developing a multi-year capital plan.
STATE POLICIES BLAMED
County Manager Daniel Palmer deferred comment on fund-balance usage to his three-page response letter to the audit’s findings. He has consistently told the Board of Supervisors it was an improper use of fund balance, but he was overruled each time, he said.
On the payroll issue, he said, they will be installing bio-metric time clocks, at a cost of $90,000, to ensure that employees are working when they are supposed to be.
In his letter, Palmer said the county did not disagree with the audit but believes the primary cause of fund-balance over-usage is New York state.
“The cost of local government has been driven by all state and federal mandates. Included within those mandates is the New York State Retirement Fund, which has exploded on local governments with little, if any, relief in sight.”
He said 20 percent of their payroll costs are driven by the Retirement Fund. The county contribution was $1.79 million in 2008, mushrooming to $4.5 million this year, Palmer said.
At the same time, the county has lost $4.5 million in revenue from state and federal sources since 2008.
Then the state came along with its 2 percent annual tax-levy cap, Palmer said, resulting in local governments like Essex County reducing services and cutting staff in order to stay within the cap.
The county also removed equipment purchases and delayed capital-improvement projects, he said.
“If we were a private business, this practice would signal that we were preparing for the point in which we would close the doors and go out of business.
“As a government, we don’t have that as an option; therefore all that has been accomplished is a short-term response to a long-term problem.”
He concluded that the problems with the garbage fund will be addressed and corrected in the 2014 county budget.
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