Otsego presents tentative budget

Greg Klein The Daily StarOtsego County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, left, answers a question during a public hearing on the county's tentative 2021 budget Thursday, Nov. 19, at the Otsego County Courthouse in Cooperstown. 

COOPERSTOWN — Otsego County's 2021 budget won't exceed the state mandated tax cap after all.

The county's Board of Representatives held a public hearing on the tentative budget Thursday, Nov. 19, at the Otsego County Courthouse at 197 Main St. in Cooperstown. Two members of the public spoke, asking questions of Treasurer Allen Ruffles, who had made a short presentation.

The meeting was also broadcast on the county's Facebook page.

Ruffles said the budget will have a tax levy of about $12 million, a 1.41% increase from the 2020 budget. The county projects $99.8 million in revenue and expenses of about $112 million.

"It is pretty good news when you think about how bad it looked," said Board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Middlefield, Roseboom. "Not having to go over the tax cap is a big thing."

Bliss said the county's fortunes will improve greatly if a coronavirus vaccine allows for a 2021 tourism season.

The financial strain brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has hurt the county's reserves, Ruffles said. The county has cashed in its municipal investments and does not have as big a fund balance for its general fund as it usually does, he said.

"The fund balance is much lower this year than we have seen it," he said, noting it is usually $5 to $6 million, but this year would be about $3.2 million.

Ruffles said Bliss both thanked the county's department heads for cutting their budgets for 2021. Most of the departments had already gone through several rounds of cutting in 2020, including losing staff members when the county laid off about 60 people in May.

Ruffles said Thursday the county had hired back more than half of the laid-off workers, but there was not money in the budget to rehire more people.

"All the department heads did a tremendous job while under a lot of stress to put this budget together," Bliss said.

The board held a special budget workshop Friday, Nov. 20, to review the comments and finalize work. 

Ruffles talked more about the bond the county would use to do infrastructure work in 2021. He said the county would use a revenue anticipatory note, which could cover as much as $6 million dollars, but he only projected using about $4 million. However, if the construction season is longer than usual and more work can be done, there is leeway to schedule more work, he said.

The money can be paid back over 15 to 20 years, while the much of the work will be repaid from state reimbursements. Ruffles has previously told the board the state road money is one of the few areas of the budget where there has not been freezes in repayments because of the coronavirus pandemic and the state's budget deficit. 

The budget will be voted at the board's meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 2. 

All county meetings are broadcast on Facebook.

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