Treasurer: SUNY Oneonta outbreak drained county revenue

Ruffles

 Otsego County’s sales tax revenue sank in the aftermath of the SUNY Oneonta coronavirus outbreak, according to Otsego County Treasurer Allen Ruffles.

Ruffles told the County Board of Representatives at its monthly meeting Wednesday, Oct. 7, that September sales tax revenue was down 19% from 2019, from $3.8 million to $3.1 million.

“That was very disheartening,” he said.

Ruffles said Otsego County and Hamilton County were the only counties in the state to suffer drops in sales tax in September and Otsego’s year-to-date drop is the third or fourth worst in the state this year, not counting New York City.

September, after the return of Oneonta’s approximately 7,000 college students, is typically one of best revenue months for Otsego County, Ruffles said.

“The rest of the year isn’t looking so well, looking at the current numbers,” he said.

Ruffles said there is some good news. CHIPS road money came back from the state and the county’s $8 million pandemic emergency revenue anticipation note has been repaid from a $800,000 advance to the highway department, he said.

Cash on hand has been good, too, he said.

Ruffles said he is almost finished with his version of the 2021 budget to turn over to the state. He said he did not exceed the state tax cap because if the board fails to pass that motion and then fails to pass a budget, his tentative budget would be in effect. He and the county would then face steep fines for going over the cap, Ruffles said.

The board held a public hearing Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Otsego County Courthouse to consider going over the cap, but no members of the public attended.

Board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Middlefield, Roseboom, said Wednesday the board would not necessarily vote on exceeding the cap, but with the hearing held, it can reserve the option for an emergency.

Ruffles has to submit the budget to the state by Nov. 1, he said.

The county representatives will hold a public hearing on the budget at the Otsego County Courthouse in Cooperstown at a time and date to be announced later.

The board typically votes on the budget at its December meeting, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 2.

In other business Wednesday:

• Bliss said the first police-community review board meeting, held Wednesday, Sept. 30, went well. He said the first meeting included a lot of “housekeeping” to get set up and the group is planning to meet every two weeks.

• Board Vice Chair Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, Milford, New Berlin, told the board the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank had gotten an offer from a private investor on a house in Richfield Springs. The multi-unit house, at 20 Lake Street, was one of the first projects for the land bank in Otsego County.

• Despite a hiring freeze, the board approved hiring for several positions which are budgeted but unfilled, including in the Highway Department, district attorney’s office, Department of Social Services and the E-911 center.

• The board also approved hiring two part-time corrections officers, but unlike with the other hires, it was not a unanimous vote. Rep. Keith McCarty, R-Richfield, Springfield; Rep. Andrew Stammel, D-town of Oneonta; and Rep. Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, voted against the measure and two other members abstained from the vote.

McCarty said he felt lied to about the need for the part-time workers. He said he was told part-time workers would save on overtime payments, but when the previous part-time officers were employed, overtime wasn’t any lower.

Several other members said they could approve part-time workers, but were still concerned about true staffing needs at the county jail.

Rep. Dan Wilber, R-Burlington, Edmeston, Exeter, Plainfield, who chairs the Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee, said he supports hiring the part-time officers at least through the end of the year while the county studies the overtime numbers and pursues a new staffing study for the jail.

• Rep. Rick Brockway, R-Laurens, Otego, read a petition from the Otsego County Second Amendment Sanctuary Group requesting sanctuary from state gun laws in Otsego County. Brockway said the petition had 3,295 signees, but claimed it would have been more except for ballot stealing, bullying and the coronavirus pandemic.

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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