By LOHR McKINSTRY
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — The $2.8 million in FEMA reimbursements used to keep the new Essex County budget under the state tax cap was not new revenue, according to the county’s certified public accountant.
County Purchasing Agent/CPA Linda Wolf said Friday that the $2.8 million was not listed under
revenue in the 2013 budget because it was not revenue.
“It goes into fund balance,” Wolf said. “That’s where it would be listed. There was no mistake in not listing it as revenue, because it was not revenue.”
But Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah), the chair of the County Finance Committee, said that he hadn’t known until a budget workshop Thursday that the money was expected.
It was used, along with a package of spending cuts, to get the proposed tax levy for next year under the county’s allowed state cap increase of 2.6 percent.
“I’m not an accountant,” Scozzafava said Friday. “We can call it (the FEMA money) whatever we want to call it. The bottom line is there’s $2.8 million the Board of Supervisors has chosen to use to reduce the levy. Is it a revenue? It’s a revenue in my terminology.”
Before the budget workshop, the county was facing a 26 percent tax levy increase, much of it from additional state mandates, in its tentative 2013 budget.
Wolf said they’ve been getting calls accusing her office of hiding the Federal Emergency Management Agency money as the budget was being prepared, and that is not correct.
The $2.8 million represented most of the county’s FEMA reimbursement from the 2011 floods. The county had already received $1 million from FEMA for infrastructure damage it had to repair.
USING BIGGER SURPLUS
Wolf said the $2.8 million due from FEMA is not new, additional revenue in the 2013 budget.
“The $2.8 million is an amount that the general fund has loaned to the Capital Project Fund and has not been received back yet. Therefore, when I prepared the available cash within the general-fund balance on Nov. 15, I deducted that amount.
“So basically you are just increasing the amount of fund balance that you are using in the 2013 budget,” she said.
The county was already using about $4 million from the fund balance to reduce taxes in the new budget.
The cuts made Thursday total $3.9 million, reducing the projected tax levy to $16.7 million, from $16.27 million this year. The tentative tax rate would be $2.51 per $1,000 of assessment. The current tax rate is $2.42.
The County Board of Supervisors will vote on the cuts at its regular meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4. The amended budget won’t be final until the board votes on it at a special meeting after the last public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10.
Besides using the FEMA money, county cuts remove $500,000 in equipment purchases for the County Department of Public Works and other departments, freeze contract agencies to current amounts to save $52,270, remove $150,000 from the County Department of Social Services budget and use $350,000 of anticipated revenue from a property-tax sale to be held in the next few months.
Another change was to move $1.3 million in equipment purchases to a bond anticipation note to be paid from the Horace Nye Nursing Home sale proceeds expected next year. The county-owned Nursing Home is being sold to a New York City firm for $4 million.
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