Treasurer: Federal aid eases Otsego budget crisis

Ruffles

Otsego County treasurer Allen Ruffles outlined the anticipated local impact of the federal government’s most recent COVID stimulus bill, the American Rescue Plan Act, at the Otsego County Board of Representatives’ virtual meeting Wednesday, April 7.

The bill, signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, provided for $65 billion in direct aid to counties based on population, according to Ruffles. Of that, counties in New York state were slated to receive an estimated $3.8 billion.

The funds can be used for support for education, public health assistance, Medicaid, housing, aging services, agriculture, small business relief, and improvements in transportation and infrastructure, Ruffles said, highlighting in particular the need for expanded broadband access throughout the region.

Otsego County’s allotted $11.4 million will be disbursed in two payments, Ruffles said: the first within 60 days of the bill’s enactment, and the second by next year.

The federal relief was much-needed, Ruffles said. The county’s 2020 budget anticipated $39.6 million in revenue, but only $36.9 million was brought in.

With occupancy tax collections down and property tax collections down from an estimated $13 million to $11 million — “People were struggling and couldn’t pay their taxes,” Ruffles said — the county faced a total of $5.8 million in lost tax revenue.

Ruffles said state and federal reimbursements to the county were also much lower than anticipated, from an expected $20 million in state reimbursement down to $14 million and an expected $12 million in federal reimbursement down to $9 million.

“Money is still coming in,” he assured the board. Highlighting the nearly $9 million in combined shortfall, Ruffles said, “those numbers are as of now, but those will go down. We are still receiving payments from the state and federal government.”

Of the 20% cut in state funding last year, 15% will be restored this year, Ruffles said. What appears to be a $7.7 million gap in state aid is actually closer to $2 or $3 million.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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