ELIZABETHTOWN — Only three people spoke at a public hearing on the tentative 2013 Essex County budget, but all urged lawmakers to make further spending cuts to avoid a significant tax-levy hike.
The budget’s tax levy is a 26.8 percent increase over this year, and the County Board of Supervisors and County Manager Daniel Palmer have been spending hours in public workshop sessions trying to reduce it.
“I feel this much (increase) is only going to force people out of their homes,” said Harold Akey of Jay. “I’m asking you guys to please reconsider. Maybe people (county employees) are willing to take salary cuts.”
He spoke at both the budget hearing and an earlier hearing Monday night on a local law to override the state tax-levy cap, which would be 2.6 percent for Essex County.
Akey said that cutting wages would be realistic, considering the county’s fiscal crisis.
“Come up with a different solution. The 26 percent levy increase is not an acceptable solution.”
The county is in negotiation on a new contract with the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) that represents most county workers. The present agreement expires Dec. 31, and Palmer said no money has been set aside in the budget for salary increases.
“This budget does not include a raise for CSEA,” he said.
The main problem with the budget is a large increase in state-mandated costs, Supervisor Daniel Connell (D-Westport) said.
“I don’t think any of us are happy with this. You have a $1.7 million increase in mandates and only a $383,000 increase allowed under the cap.”
Palmer said that massive layoffs could bring them in under the cap but would cripple county services. The county laid off 10 workers last year.
“If you were to eliminate every local service that’s not mandated, maybe you could come under the cap, but it’s just not possible with our setup,” he said.