Press-Republican

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December 14, 2012

Essex County treasurer warns of 'fiscal cliff' ahead

ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County Treasurer Michael Diskin has warned county lawmakers they could be approaching a fiscal cliff next year at budget time.

Diskin said he and Essex County Department of Social Services Commissioner John O’Neill recently held an emergency meeting with 18 of the county’s 25 department heads.

“It appears there will be a hole of at least $8 million going into budget time next year,” Diskin said. “The outlook for 2014 is going to be very bleak.”

PLANNING COULD HELP

This year, the County Board of Supervisors used $4 million of its fund balance, along with $2.8 million in anticipated Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements for last year’s flood, which would have been added to the fund balance.

The FEMA money was a creative revenue source, along with $565,000 of an anticipated $1.9 million in revenue from a property-tax sale that hasn’t been scheduled yet.

It certainly will require some tough financial planning next year, said Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah), who chairs the County Finance Committee.

“I don’t see us falling off the fiscal cliff in 2014, 2015. I fully support this (2013) budget. I feel confident next year we’re not going to be in dire straits; we’ll find ways to reduce expenses.”

Scozzafava said he’s concerned some county officials are now “crying the sky is falling” without justification.

“Where were they for the last five or six years? This gloom and doom picture is coming from people who were in disagreement with the budget.”

He said they used substantial portions of the county fund balance before to balance the budget.

“Fund balance is taxpayers’ money. To say you need to carry $10 million in fund balance is not right.

“I also don’t understand where the county treasurer or the county manager are coming from to say we shouldn’t use the FEMA money to reduce taxes for our constituency.”

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