At 194 Main St., Cooperstown, the seat of Otsego County government, there’s been wailing and gnashing of teeth since COVID-19 arrived six months ago.
Revenues dried up. Fifty-nine jobs were chopped. The county board waited fearfully as state and federal mandarins declined to pay back money spent on mandated programs in 2019. The county reps pondered raising taxes above the 2 percent state cap, political hari kari.
County Treasurer Allen Ruffles cut through all that in a preliminary budget he presented to the county board’s Budget Committee Thursday, Oct. 1.
It balances. It provides cash flow. And it won’t raise taxes.
In consultation with county board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, and Budget Committee chair Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, Milford, New Lisbon; Ruffles prepared a budget that:
• One, squeezes the prospective 2021 deficit from $13.5 million to $5.4 million; he cut wherever he could.
• Two, he’ll borrow $4 million at a historically low interest rate – 1.0043 percent – due in 12-24 years.
• Three, Highway Superintendent Rich Brimmer’s crews will get as much road work done as early next summer as possible, freeing up $6.7 million in CHIPS money, road funding that is still flowing from Albany.
He’ll use the $1.0043 percent loan money to pay for road-repair supplies, and pay it back whenever. And he’ll use the $6.7 million to pay short-term bills on everything else.
With a little luck, a vaccine and new treatments will wrestle COVID-19 to the ground in the next few months. Blessed tourists will return in 2021 – hosanna! – and sales tax and bed tax coffers will overflow. Happy days will be here again.
If the COVID threat continues for 5-6 years, we’re all sunk anyhow. But, chin up, America. That’s unlikely to happen.
As the sign at Schneider’s Bakery says, “This Too Shall Pass.” That’s as good a prediction as any.
The Ruffles budget is a preliminary spending plan county treasurers are required to submit to Albany by mid-November.
Bliss, Kennedy and the Budget Committee appear to like the Ruffles formula. So, right now, Ruffles’ formula may carry the day. The result: stable taxes, cash flow to get through ’21, and low-interest debt to pay when the economy rebounds.
Well done, Allen. Why not?