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November 21, 2012

County treasurer presents tentative budget

By JOE MAHONEY
Cooperstown Crier

---- — The tentative 2013 spending plan for Otsego County calls for a 1.97 percent increase in the budget levy as well as “scaled back” services to the public as a result of the third straight year of staff reductions, according to County Treasurer Dan Crowell.

“Major factors that have affected the 2013 budget include services mandated by the state of New York that continue to crowd out other locally driven efforts,” Crowell said in a letter to members of the county Board of Representatives.

A public hearing on the spending package is scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 28 in the county courthouse in Cooperstown.

Crowell said the spending blueprint requests appropriations of nearly $124.5 million. That would be about $7 million more than the 2012 budget allocated.

The treasurer noted that the 2013 county cost for Medicaid is $10.7 million — the equivalent of 92 percent of the 2013 tentative budget tax levy. And even while staff cuts have been made three years in a row, Crowell said retirement benefit costs in 2013 will be $964,277 higher than they are this year.

One of the most notable budget trends is the rising cost of operating the Otsego Manor at a time when the Medicaid reimbursement rate has been cut and the costs of labor and materials have been increasing.

“State restructuring around Medicaid payments for the services provided by Otsego Manor have significantly accelerated the growth rate of the budgeted operating gap from $3.3 million in 2012 to $5.5 million in 2013,” Crowell said.

He cautioned that some of the measures used to bring about a balanced budget wouldn’t be available to county officials in future years.

“The 2013 budget process has pursued both medium-term cost reductions as well as long-term structural adjustments,” he wrote. “The choices that have been made have not been easy, and not all of them are sustainable.”

The services being reduced, he noted, include those involving public health, senior citizen programs, infrastructure repairs and legal assistance for the poor.

“However, in this list of reductions, there are some expenditures that will need to be resumed within the next one to two budget cycles,” Crowell advised. “They have forestalled more drastic reductions — or an offsetting dramatic tax increase — but they will be decreasingly available to us in coming years.”

The plan presented by Crowell calls for no staffing reductions at the office of County Clerk Kathy Sinnott Gardner. She has contended that any downsizing of her staff would be a self-defeating move, because it would reduce the revenue her office collects for the county.

Rep. Donald Lindberg, R-Worcester, said he thinks the board should scrutinize county agencies more closely to determine whether additional jobs can be eliminated. Crowell has said the draft budget would eliminate 10 full-time and part-time jobs, including some that are vacant or are expected to become vacant soon as a result of retirements.

“I think they probably should have laid off a few more people,” Lindberg said, adding he was concerned that the plan relied on using funds that will only be available once, creating potential gaps for future budgets.

Rep. Rich Murphy, D-town of Oneonta, the chairman of the Budget Committee, said county representatives have been giving Crowell “guidance” following a series of discussions on ways to balance the budget, some of them involving the heads of the various departments.