By LOHR McKINSTRY
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County lawmakers added a hiring freeze to the arsenal of budget cuts and reductions passed this week.
Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington) moved to commence the measure in 2013, and it easily passed the County Board of Supervisors, 12 to 4.
“I don’t disagree we’ve got an awful can of worms coming up in the future, and we need to address it,” Preston said.
The freeze means that filling open county positions will need board approval, except at Horace Nye Nursing Home, where patient safety requires minimum staffing levels.
“We’re in dire straits for 2014,” Supervisor Daniel Connell (D-Westport) said. “We’ve got to do something.”
After four hours of wrangling, supervisors also restored pay raises for department heads and most elected officials, setting them at 2 percent. The raises had been withdrawn at the budget workshop last week.
Management-confidential employees are still getting 2 percent pay increases that the board previously agreed upon.
Members of the Board of Supervisors will not get raises in 2013, supervisors decided, and the budget has no funds for increases for union employees since their contract expires at the end of the year.
The hiring freeze was opposed by Supervisors Gerald Morrow (D-Chesterfield), David Blades (R-Lewis), Sue Montgomery Corey (D-Minerva) and George Canon (R-Newcomb).
Michael Marnell (R-Schroon) was absent, and Joyce Morency (R-St. Armand) died on Monday after a long illness.
“This resolution is needed,” Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said of the freeze. “It’s long overdue. The bulk of the expenses are in personnel.”
The board approved about $3.9 million in budget cuts and changes that had been made informally at a budget workshop last Thursday.
Among them were reducing the tax levy using $2.8 million in expected Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement funds for last year’s flood damage, slashing $252,000 from contract agencies like Cornell Cooperative Extension, $597,000 from the County Department of Public Works and $150,000 from the Department of Social Services and using $350,000 from anticipated proceeds from a property-tax sale to be held in the spring.
The projected tax levy would be about $16.7 million, a 2.6 percent increase over this year.
The board also OK’d using more of the anticipated $1.9 million in tax-sale money to come in under the state’s 2.6 percent tax-cap formula for Essex County, if the cuts fall short.
County Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) told fellow supervisors and county employees to brace for big changes next year.
“We need to work hard, we need to work together,” he said. “We’ve got to get back to a team. I will meet with all department heads, see what (their) needs are.”
‘2014 OUTLOOK VERY BLEAK’
Essex County Treasurer Michael Diskin said the board it will be facing an immediate $8 million deficit for the 2014 budget.
“The outlook for 2014 will be very bleak. I have some concerns about our being able to meet ordinary needs, making payroll. I’m stating an opinion based on what I see coming down the road.”
He said they may not be able to provide all services.
“We’re committed to provide the appropriate level of services within our fiscal constraints. Department heads want to be a part of the process. Look at a three-to-five-year spending plan. We stand ready to help you in the process.”
The county is holding a second public hearing on the proposed budget at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10, in the Old County Courthouse in Elizabethtown. A special meeting of the board to vote on budget approval will follow at 7 p.m.
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