Press-Republican

December 18, 2013

Essex County budget shaves tax-levy hike to 13.3 percent

By LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

---- — ELIZABETHTOWN All 18 supervisors were present for Tuesday’s much-heralded final budget session, which reduced the Essex County tax levy from 15 to 13.3 percent.

The new budget will add 39 cents per $1,000 of assessment to the county property-tax rate.

The tax rate will be $2.82, up from $2.44 this year. The tentative budget had a $2.87 tax rate and a 15 percent increase in the levy, which is the amount to be raised by taxes.

It took three and a half hours of wrangling by the County Board of Supervisors to scrape a little more than $300,000 from the proposed 2014 budget that County Manager Daniel Palmer had submitted in November.

The board then passed a budget with a tax levy of $18.65 million.

It passed by weighted vote: 1,758 to 1,163.

8 VOTED 'NO'

Voting "no" on the budget were Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay), Supervisors Sharon Boisen (I-Essex), William Ferebee (R-Keene), Sue Montgomery Corey (D-Minerva), Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah), Michael Marnell (R-Schroon), Edward Hatch (D-Willsboro) and Randy Preston (I-Wilmington).

Supervisors removed purchase of a road grader from the spending plan to save $230,000; decided to have one snowplow operator instead of two in some cases to save $16,000; and added higher wages, $10,000, for the clerk of the board’s office.

The board also reduced contract agencies to current levels but then put the increase back for one of them, Essex County Soil and Water Service. The resulting reductions save $63,356. 

Most employees are getting 1 percent raises in the new budget.

At the end, Douglas said he appreciated all the effort that went into the process to create it.

“We worked together to try to solve our differences. We’re all in this situation to represent our people.”

He said the County Manager’s Office staff will have to work over the weekend to prepare the new spending plan.

Dec. 20 is the statutory deadline set by the state for filing the 2014 county budget.

PLAN PASSES

An initial resolution to accept Palmer’s budget plan subject to amendment passed with only Supervisor Sharon Boisen (I-Essex) opposed. Supervisor Sue Montgomery Corey (D-Minerva) came in after the vote.

A similar motion had failed at the last budget session because Supervisor Roby Politi (R-North Elba), who has the most weighted votes under the county’s system, was not present then, and his 853 votes were counted as "no" votes. 

It would have passed under a straight numerical tally.

Politi was at Tuesday’s meeting and voted in favor of the Palmer budget plan, which aims to restore county fund balances. All that was approved Tuesday was year one of the five-year plan, however, since lawmakers said they can't commit future boards.

“I don’t think we’ve gone anywhere near to where we could have gone at reducing this budget,” Scozzafava said. “I can’t believe we’re going to pass a budget with this kind of increase.”

They had little choice, Politi said.

“We’ve used fund balance to look good, and it’s caught up,” he said.

“We saved 5 cents per $1,000 (on the tax rate) in three and a half hours,” Morrow said. “We are spinning our wheels.”

The board broke for lunch, then returned to pass the final budget within half an hour, topping the whole endeavor out at four hours.

Email Lohr McKinstry:lmckinstrypressrepublican.com