Taxpayers laud, agencies lament proposed county budget

ELIZABETHTOWN While taxpayer groups were complimentary, several county agencies wanted to plead their cases about the proposed 2008 Essex County budget during a public hearing Nov. 26. Finance Committee Chairman and Budget Liaison Thomas Scozzafava (Moriah-R) opened the hearing by stating his pleasure with the proposed budget. For the fourth year, there will be no increase in the tax levy, he noted. The proposed county budget of $82,988,300 is down about one percent. Anticipated revenues are $62,465,650, down about half a percent from 2007. The county plans on applying $6,476,933 in fund balance, resulting in a tax levy decrease of about $133,795. Taxpayer advocates approve of proposed budget
John Whiteley of the Ticonderoga Association of Concerned Taxpayers came to the meeting to thank supervisors for their responsible use of funds. You've set a standard for municipalities to follow, and you deserve a lot of credit for that. Youve shown very concretely that you care about the taxpayers, said Whiteley. Diane Lashway, a member of the Moriah Voters for Tax Reform group, also applauded the countys efforts. We're asking this board to continue to make every effort to remain fiscally conservative in addressing the needs of the county, and the past two or three years have been encouraging, said Lashway. Lashway was curious about plans to help decrease the county employee contributions to health insurance and asked if that would have an effect on the budget. Scozzafava explained the plan would not have an effect on the tax levy. Organizations, agencies ask for funding increase
Public Health Director Kathy Abernathy requested that items be reinstated in the budget. Her department asked for an additional $450,000 in funding and was turned down. Abernathy explained that a variety of things were needed by the department, including a preschool coordinator, secretary, upgrades to staff positions, advertising, and the purchase of four new cars. Planning Office Director Victor Putnam said he thought the budget should include $8,243 to establish a transportation department. The countys transportation coordinator currently operates under the planning office. I would like to voice my recommendation that the transportation department evolve into its own, separate entity to assist the taxpayers of Essex County, said Putnam. Transportation Committee Chairman Randall Douglas (Jay - D) seconded the recommendation. Planning is currently underway to create a one-call center, which would coordinate transportation and eliminate duplication of services by county departments. I believe in the long run, it will save the taxpayers of this country numerous thousands of dollars to eliminate duplication of services, said Douglas. Members of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension Essex County (CCE), headquartered in Westport, asked for an increase. CCE has been level-funded at $175,500 since 2004. CCE officials and participants requested a five percent increase to $185,000. Bill Johnston, president of CCEs executive board, said that expenses like fuel costs, travel and insurance needed to be offset. Essex County provides 22 percent of CCEs total funding. Four members of 4-H, which is overseen by CCE, took the opportunity to express the importance of the program to them. Ethan French, Emily French, Chauntel Gillilland and Emily Wing asked county officials to consider the increase. I think that getting this increase would raise more opportunities - 4H is making us into role model citizens... and I hope youll consider that, said Gillilland. The budget will be discussed, amended and passed at the next board meeting on Dec. 3. Health care cost relief for on the table
In other business,supervisors briefly discussed plans to help employees with the cost of health care during the regular Ways and Means Committee meeting. Supervisor Daniel Connell (Westport - D) requested an update on plans to help offset costs for employees. Recent hikes in health care costs have shifted the employee share significantly, requiring a $200-500 monthly co-pay. Personnel Manager Daniel Palmer explained that he had created a plan to increase the family plan contribution rate for employees. The cost would be offset through savings from the countys drug plans, and the anticipated savings of employees switching to less-expensive plans. Palmer was reluctant to disclose details of the plan in public session due to ongoing negotiations. He said he would make the number public if it was approved by the CSEA union vote, scheduled for Nov. 26. There was no move to enter executive session. I'd be very careful about going into executive session if you're trying to keep that kind of confidence. Things have a way of leaking out of there, said Newcomb Supervisor George Canon. The issue is expected to be discussed at the regular board meeting on Dec. 3.

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