Out of Africa
County County’s 2020 Budget
Under Tax Cap, Over $120M
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – The 2020 tentative Otsego County budget is done, by way of Uganda, Burundi and Tanganyika.
It is under New York State’s tax cap, and Otsego County continues to be “one of the lowest taxed counties in the state,” County Treasurer (and Sgt.) Allen Ruffles reported Monday, Nov. 18, in a Zoom-enabled videoconference from his quarters in Djibouti, where he is stationed until early next year with the New York State National Guard.
Ruffles, who was assigned to the Horn of Africa last spring, participated in all budget meetings from 11,466 miles away in Camp Lemmonier via Zoom, a videoconferencing software being introduced throughout county government.
As it happens, the eight-hour time difference has worked well, as Ruffles gets off work in the evenings just as the Budget Committee is convening in the mornings, said Deputy Treasurer Andrew Crisman.
According to County IT Director Brian Pokorny, a large screen has been installed in the second-floor conference room at the county Office Building at 197 Main St. It was used to communicate with Ruffles, but will be used increasingly for less exotic communications.
For instance, instead of bringing department heads up from offices in Oneonta’s Old City Hall (242 Main St.) or The Meadows Complex to answer a question, they will be able to talk face-to-face with county board committees through this new tool, he said.
The total tentative 2020 county budget is $120,200,165, up from an approved 2019 number of $116,805,295.
The tax levy – what local property owners pay – rises to $12,144,437, up from an approved 2019 number of $11,707,812.
That increase is $3.73 percent, but state allowances – unpaid taxes, for instance – brings it under the Cuomo Administration’s 2 percent cap, Ruffles said.
The public hearing on the budget will be at 6 p.m. next Tuesday, Nov. 26, at the county courthouse in Cooperstown. The county board will be asked to approve the document at its monthly meeting Wednesday, Dec. 4.
In reviewing the tentative budget, Ruffles, Crisman and county Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, the Budget Committee chairman, discussed these areas of interest:
- So far, the expected impact of the state Legislature’s judicial reforms hasn’t been felt. A new prosecutor in District Attorney John Muehl’s office, for instance, was covered by savings discovered by the new public defender, Michael Trossett, in his office.
- Spikes are evident across the board in spending on county buildings. Old City Hall renovations went from $48,000 to $126,000, for instance. Much of this results from a contract with Trane, the Fortune 500 HVAC company; upgrades in heating, air-conditioning and energy efficiency are expected to save money long-term, Kennedy said. Asbestos, common when the county Office Building was erected in the 1960s, is being removed across the board, she added.
- The Office of Emergency Services budget drops from $621,000 to $411,000, but is still double the $237,000 in 2018. Lately, the department has been investing in an e911 system that allows ambulance squads to stay connected even while responding to rural areas of the county that lack service. Much of the expense is being made up from grants, Ruffles said.
Overall, Kennedy said, the county board was committed to fully funding the M/C salary increase that grew of out a Personnel Department study last year aimed at keeping supervisors’ salaries at a par with similar counties.
Ruffles, who said he’s run into Dan Crowell, the county treasurer before him, who is also a National Guardsman on assignment in Djibouti, expects to be back in the U.S. in the latter part of January.
Beyond long-distance budgeteering, Ruffles has had other adventures, including spending four weeks in Tanganyika, hunting poachers during the day and sleeping in a tent at night.
One night, he awoke to an orange glow, and discovered his camp with in the path of a roaring wildfire. “I’d never seen anything like that,” said the Edmeston native.