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Reserves’ use likely to cut Fulton County tax levy hike

Fewer and fewer areas remain to trim

Thursday, October 18, 2012
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— County supervisors have recommended using $1 million in reserve funds to trim approximately 4 percent from a proposed 15 percent increase in the tax levy for 2013.

The suggested 11 percent levy increase — the total amount to be collected from property taxes — is still well above the 2.5 percent state-imposed tax levy cap. Supervisors would have to trim an additional $2.4 million from the adjusted $31 million property tax levy to get it within the cap, said Budget Director Alice Kuntzsch.

The Finance Committee of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors made the recommendation during a budget work session Wednesday morning. The vote was unanimous and followed a nearly 45-minute discussion in which committee members determined there was little left to cut in the county’s proposed $89 million budget for 2013.

“There is not a lot of room in there for anything,” said Gregory Fagan, chairman of the Finance Committee.

The committee will meet again Oct. 25 and could apply more of the fund balance to reduce the levy, and it may also forward a tentative budget to the full board then. The board has until Dec. 3 to adopt a budget. The county’s fiscal year begins Jan. 1.

County Treasurer E. Terry Blodgett said the amount in the fund balance could fluctuate by as much as $2 million based on the status of $28 million in revenues yet to be collected and the final costs to close out the books on the Residential Health Care Facility, which the county sold to a private corporation last year. He said he should have a better handle on these figures by the committee’s next meeting.

Blodgett said the $28 million includes approximately $1.7 million owed to the county by the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District, which had until the end of September to pay the money to the county, as ordered by a state Supreme Court judge. The district says it cannot pay the back taxes because it has no money and very little revenue.

He said the county’s final costs to close out the nursing home’s books could total approximately $1.5 million, which would have to come out of the fund balance, a pool of unspent money from previous budget years that the county uses for emergencies.

The committee’s recommendation, as it currently stands, would leave approximately $8 million in the fund balance. The state Comptroller’s Office recommends counties maintain their fund balances at approximately 14 percent of their budgets; Fulton County’s total stood at about 12 percent at the end of the last fiscal year.

The proposed budget does not include any cuts in personnel or services, and it also does not include any wage increases for members of three bargaining units, whose contracts have expired or will expire. County officials do not expect to conclude contract talks before the budget is adopted, and they said any salary adjustments thereafter would have to come from the fund balance.

Blodgett said his recommendation to the board is to take no more than $2 million from the fund balance. “I don’t like a small fund balance in case something happens. I am very conservative,” he said. “I don’t want to see the fund balance drop below 10 percent.”

Still, Blodgett said he understands the board may take more than he recommends. “They have a job to do. They have to get the levy down as far as possible,” he said.

The board over the years has significantly reduced county government, trimming the work force by 35 percent and privatizing many operations, such as its nursing service and the nursing home. Supervisors said the increasing costs of state mandates is forcing them to make tough decisions to keep taxes within the cap. They also said the state is not increasing aid to help municipalities pay for the added costs and that in Fulton County’s case, its main revenues streams have shown little or no growth due to the recession.

 
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