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County weighs various closings to meet budget goal

QUEENSBURY Determined to minimize an impending Warren County budget increase, county supervisors talked this week about shutting down the county fish hatchery, padlocking the county airport, or discontinuing the operation of the Countryside Adult Home all in the name of saving money. The tentative 2009 county budget calls for $37,030,355 to be raised by taxes, a 5.86 percent increase over the current year. Supervisors are aiming to reduce that increase to 4 percent, a level they said Friday would be more acceptable to taxpayers. That would mean paring about $1 million from the budget, Queensbury Town Supervisor Dan Stec said. We have difficult decisions to make, he said. We have to get this budget down we cant keep operating programs that serve dozens of people; were looking out for our thousands of taxpayers. Supervisors said state and federal governments mandate most of the countys programs and expenditures, forcing them to consider scrapping some of the services and facilities which are optional, like the fish hatchery, Countryside Adult home a home for people with limited or no income who need some supervision or the countys Floyd Bennett Airport. Shutting down the airport would save county taxpayers about $800,000 per year. Privatizing or closing Countryside would save between $800,000 and $900,000, and discontinuing operations at the county fish hatchery would save about $150,000, county officials said. County supervisors also discussed drawing down county reserve funds by $1 million to bring the tax increase down to 4 percent, but rejected the idea for two reasons. Recent years budgets drew down reserve funds substantially in an effort to keep tax bills low, which just postpones tax hikes, while shrinking the countys financial cushion. Secondly, the money in reserve may be needed to meet expenses if the county has a revenue shortfall if the recession deepens, they said. The economy could get a lot worse, Stec said Monday. Theres a lot of uncertainty over what may happen. Already in 2008, the county has a revenue shortfall, because some revenues were overestimated in last years budgeting process. Jail revenues from boarding prisoners from other counties was overestimated by $600,000, health services income was overestimated by $391,000, and mortgage tax in 2008 will be about $600,000 less than budgeted, county Budget Officer Kevin Geraghty said. The countys unrestricted reserve has been as high as $21 million in recent years, but was drawn down to about $4.4 million by the end of 2007 although the state recommends that Warren County keep $6 million to $7 million in reserve. Several supervisors, however, suggested that about $500,000 of reserve funds be used to reduce taxes for 2009, plus paring an additional $500,000 out of the 2009 budget to meet that goal of 4 percent increase. Countryside Adult Home Director Brenda Brown-Hayes said her facility was vital to serve those in the county who needed supervision and day-to-day care. Countryside Adult home, called the county poor farm and alms home in the late 1800s, serves an important purpose, she said. Its been here for over 100 years and its always had plenty of residents, so apparently its needed, she said. Shutting down Countryside doesnt necessarily mean a savings for taxpayers, she said. If it is closed, Warren County would be responsible under state law to place its present 44 residents at another facility, likely at a higher cost, she said. Geraghty said Monday all county department leaders would be asked this week to make further cuts to meet the budget goal. County supervisors are scheduled to meet at 9:30 a.m. Friday to finalize a tentative budget which should be filed that day with the state.

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