Press-Republican

October 30, 2012

Essex County continues toward tax-cap override

By LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — With two lawmakers in opposition, Essex County is approaching an override of the state’s 2 percent tax cap.

A local law is required if the County Board of Supervisors wants to exceed the tax cap, which would be adjusted to 2.5 percent for Essex County.

Because of state mandates, the county would have to lay off more than 100 workers to meet that cap, County Manager Daniel Palmer said.

With a budget that’s up $13 million so far over last year, the tax cap would allow just a $383,600 tax-levy increase.

MORE CUTS

But Supervisor Edward Hatch (D-Willsboro) said he believes they should make deeper cuts.

“I think it’s premature. We should be looking at this budget without the need to override.”

The county must pass a local law and hold a public hearing if it wants to override the cap. The override hearing will tentatively be Monday, Nov. 26, just before the budget hearing at 7 p.m.

The county also overrode the cap for the current budget in passing a $15.2 million tax levy that carried a 10 percent tax hike on a spending plan totaling $102 million.

‘BOAT IS SINKING’

Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas (D-Jay) said he wished Hatch were attending budget workshops so he could see the difficulties they face.

“The notices are out there for budget sessions with department heads,” Douglas said at a recent meeting. “I haven’t seen you at any one of them.”

Hatch said they laid people off last year, and he voted for it with the promise they’d make deep cuts this time.

“The argument was you would go though each department this year and see where you could cut back. I haven’t seen any of that.”

Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said they reviewed department budgets closely and are continuing to make cuts.

“We went through every budget line by line. The boat is sinking. This is just to have a local law in place if the board decides to override.”

ALTERNATIVE IS LAYOFFS

Scozzafava said they might be able to come in under the cap, although that would be very difficult without crippling layoffs.

Palmer said they’d have to lay off 100 to 150 employees out of 623 to meet the cap.

The manager said he’ll go over his working budget with the board before submitting it.

“I’ll go over a plan to have a balanced budget in three years. It’s going to be painful. I’d rather have some agreement with the board, tell you what the tax rate will be over that period.”

The county has a current tax rate of $2.38 per $1,000 of assessment.

MANDATES

Supervisor Daniel Connell (D-Westport) said they’re hammered by state mandates every year.

“So much of our budget we don’t control. I know we’re going to work hard to bring this in as low as possible, but I don’t see how we’re going to meet the 2 percent (cap).”

The cap override passed a recent preliminary vote at Ways and Means session, 14 to 2, with Hatch and Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington) opposed. Supervisors Debra Malaney (R-Ticonderoga) and Joyce Morency (R-St. Armand) were absent.

Preston said he won’t vote for a budget with what looks, so far, like a 30 percent tax increase.

The final vote on the cap override is at 10 a.m. Monday, Nov. 5, in the Old County Courthouse at Elizabethtown.

Email Lohr McKinstry: lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com