ELIZABETHTOWN — Faced with a soaring budget, Essex County lawmakers are preparing a local law that would override the state's 2-percent tax cap.
More work on the 2012 spending plan and a public hearing would come before a vote on that law, however.
A week of budget sessions with department heads only got the increase down from about $16 million to $13.3 million.
"It was, frankly, difficult to get money (cuts) out of them (department heads)," County Manager Daniel Palmer said.
As it stood Monday, he said, a budget with no increase "would require elimination of a whole host of programs: (Senior) Nutrition Program, visiting nurses, contract agencies, elimination or closure of the (Horace Nye) Nursing Home."
In addition, as many as 60 layoffs would be needed to balance the budget.
The County Board of Supervisors has said it might sell or lease the 100-bed Nursing Home but would not close it.
The County Social Services Department's budget alone is up $1.2 million and is state-mandated, Palmer said, but County Office of Mental Health revenue is down $500,000 due to managed care that reduces billed amounts.
"Dan will get a summary to us (the Board of Supervisors) later. Fasten your seat-belts," said Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah), the county budget liaison officer.
IN THE PIPELINE
Scozzafava said they'll prepare a no-increase budget to show the Board of Supervisors what one would require, but he doesn't think the board will want to go that far.
Instead, County Attorney Daniel Manning III is preparing a local law necessary to override the new 2-percent tax cap.
Manning said Monday the county can override the cap with a local law passed by a vote of 60 percent of the board's 18 members.
"You haven't got much time. I recommend you start the process to override the tax cap. You need to get it in the pipeline."
He said the county must adopt the local law saying an override is planned, then hold a public hearing and finally pass the law.
They must pass it before the budget is adopted, Manning said.
"I recommend that we do it, whether we use it or not."
Palmer said that even if the budget comes in below the 2-percent tax-levy cap, passing the local law would protect them in case it doesn't.
Supervisor Rob Dobie (D-North Hudson) moved the local law to override, and it passed the Country Personnel and Administration Committee unanimously.
The next vote is at the Ways and Means Committee meeting on Oct. 31, with a final vote at the board's Nov. 7 regular session.
"It's our intention to put together a budget at 2-percent (tax-levy increase). You can see what it takes to meet that cap," Scozzafava said. "We have pet projects, services that will be gone."
The public hearing on the tax-cap override is set for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 28, with the hearing on the proposed 2012 county budget to follow at 7 p.m. the same night.
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