Tentative budget raises concerns among supervisors

ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County officials are finding it hard to keep tax rates down as they review anticipated spending for the next two years.

County Manager Daniel Palmer, who has been compiling a tentative budget for next year, told the Essex County Finance Committee at its Nov. 16 meeting that there may be some tough decisions ahead.

According to Palmer, the tentative county budget for the 2009-2010 year will reduce appropriations by $2.9 million.

"The problem is that the revenue is $3.6 million down from the 2008-2009 budget," he said.

The difference amounts to a five percent increase in the tax levy, but it's the following year that is of even greater concern.

"The real problem comes in 2011," said Palmer, who said the levy could increase another 39 percent next year due to rising expenditures and further anticipated cuts in state aid.

Still, both Palmer and members of the finance committee agreed that more needs to be done with the budget at hand.

Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, chair of the committee, suggested the board look for more ways to cut expenditures. He asked specifically about raises slated for management-level employees, which total more than $236,000 for the next year.

Palmer said keeping costs down can be difficult with mandated expenses like employee benefits and health care continuing to increase at staggering rates. Health insurance expenses increased 15 percents from 2008-2009 and Palmer expects they will increase another 18 percent next year.

"If national health insurance actually does something and drives down the cost of our health care, that's the best thing I can hope for," said Palmer, expressing skepticism that it would do more than cover those currently uninsured.

Palmer also noted the tentative budget will put $7.4 million of the county's $21 million fund balance toward next year's spending.

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