COOPERSTOWN – The $9.2 million gap in Otsego County’s proposed 2016 budget is closed.
It took the layoffs of 19 full-time and 7 part-time county employees, slashing some services and raising property taxes by about $100,000 total, the maximum allowed under the state property tax cap.
The layoffs, agreed on Friday, Nov. 6, by the county board’s Budget Review Committee and county Treasurer Dan Crowell, followed six weeks of discussion.
“I can’t remember a year where everyone loved everything that was in the budget,” said Crowell, who will file his tentative spending plan either Friday, Nov. 13, or the following Monday with Clerk of the Board Carol McGovern. “I’ve got just a few days to package it all together.”
Then county reps will meet in a workshop session on any final adjustments, followed by a public hearing, probably Monday, Nov. 30.
The final step will likely come two days later at the full board’s December meeting, where last minute amendments can be made in the $103 million spending plan.
If the final amendments prevent the full board from agreeing on the approximately $103 million spending plan, then the treasurer’s budget automatically goes into effect, Crowell said.
In the run-up to the December vote, some board members are working behind the scenes to make changes. “I will lobby for my point of view,” said Rep. Kathy Clark, R-Otego, and chair of the board. “I’ll try to make the case for what to keep in or take out.”
The most contentious issues are job cuts and the pending decision by the county board not to distribute a portion of the bed tax to municipalities.
Rep. Rick Hulse, R-Fly Creek, said there is no horse trading going on, but members discuss their concerns during committee meetings and in informal exchanges. Hulse is in the minority when it comes to the bed tax. “My thought is that the county should retain very little of the bed tax,” said Hulse. “It should be redistributed and reinvested in our communities. I’m always advocating for things like that.”
Outgoing Rep. Betty Anne Schwerd, R-Hartwick, said she’ll vote against the spending plan. “They hit the Office of the Aging way hard,” said Schwerd. “They are a very small staff and they took one critical person from them.”
And the view from the other side of the aisle? “I don’t think there are a lot of members trying to save positions,” said Rep. Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta. “There are a large number of board members who are fundamentally looking at smaller government.”