By LOHR McKINSTRY
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County’s new budget so far has a spending gap of about $13 million over this year.
County lawmakers said Monday they intend to continue budget work to reduce that figure, maybe by speeding up the sale of Horace Nye Nursing Home.
The County Board of Supervisors agreed in June to sell the Nursing Home to the Centers for Specialty Care of the Bronx for $4.01 million.
But, to date, no contract has been signed, said Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah), who chairs the County Finance Committee.
“We have no contract for sale of the Nursing Home, which I find hard to believe, since a resolution was passed back in June.”
Supervisor Roby Politi (R-North Elba) said the agreement has taken longer than expected.
“There have been extensive modifications, changes, which is absolutely normal,” he said. “I think it’s (a contract) very close to being finalized. It is not signed as of today.”
He said they are trying to reach agreement on a contract satisfactory to all parties.
“The revised version of the contract went back to the buyer’s attorney last week,” County Manager Daniel Palmer said.
Scozzafava said that if they get the $4 million soon, it could be used to reduce the deficit in the budget.
“It could be an option to reduce the size of the (tax) levy. Offset that appropriation with that revenue.”
'LINE BY LINE'
Palmer said $2.5 million of the spending increase in the budget is for additional costs at Horace Nye.
Scozzafava said it will still be a year until the new owner can get a certificate of need from the State Department of Health to run Horace Nye.
“We’re still going to have to budget for the operation of Horace Nye for 2013.”
Scozzafava told his fellow lawmakers that the budget process is ongoing.
“We basically have sat down with department heads to go over their budgets. It was pretty much line by line. We have to meet with some other departments. Other than it’s not pretty, we have no predictions.”
Palmer said they’ll put the final numbers together soon to form a tentative budget, then go over it with the full Board of Supervisors.
The 2012 spending plan had a tax levy of $16.27 million and totaled $102.28 million. It raised the tax levy by about 10 percent, for a tax rate of $2.41 per $1,000 of assessment, 27 cents more than 2011. It also used $4 million from the county’s cumulative fund balance.
Palmer said the county has been using that fund balance, now down to $10 million, to reduce the tax levy in recent years.
“The county has attempted to hold the levy as low as it possibly could,” he said. “It created a gap that’s very difficult to cover. We’ve cut employees. The gap between the levy and what we actually needed was increasing every year.”
Health insurance and State Retirement System costs are increasing a lot, Palmer said.
“We are also in union negotiations. There’s a lot of unknowns out there.”
The county’s contract with the Civil Service Employees Union is up at the end of the year.
Palmer said they now spend $670,000 on contract agencies such as Cornell Cooperative Extension, down from $900,00 two years ago, so further cuts there may not work.
“You pare them down so much, they’re not going to be able to operate.”
Scozzafava said the public hearing on the budget will take place Monday, Nov. 26, during the Ways and Means session for that day, at a time to be determined later.
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