Preliminary Fulton County budget calls for 14.6 percent tax increase


Recorder News Staff

JOHNSTOWN -- Fulton County officials are beginning to deal with the consequences of a decision made last year to include a one-time $3.5 million revenue from the sale of the county's residential health care facility in the 2012 budget.

Members of the Board of Supervisors Budgetary Review Committee learned Thursday morning that it's nearly the exact amount they are currently short of meeting the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap.

Fulton County Budget Director Alice Kuntzsch presented the committee with a preliminary draft of the 2013 budget, which includes an 11.2 percent drop in revenue and an estimated $4 million, or 14. 6 percent, tax levy increase.

Calling the budget a "living" document, Kuntzsch cautioned that the budget presented on Thursday represented an extremely early draft and that many of the figures it included would likely change.

Kuntzsch told the committee that in order to stay within the cap, the levy could increase by no more than 2.52 percent this year, or approximately $700,000, which means they must somehow find approximately $3.4 million to cut.

Without any changes to the budget, those figures equate to a $1.55 per $1,000 of assessed property value rise in the average tax rate to $13.12.

Total appropriations in the preliminary budget, however, currently stand at approximately $88.8 million, down $4.3 million from last year and the lowest since 2003.

"We knew this was coming," Kuntzsch said of the shortfall resulting from last year's decision. "That's the biggest impact on our budget for this year."

Medicaid remains the single largest expense for the county, Kuntzsch said.

"Just under half of our levy goes to pay one bill, one bill," Kuntzsch told the committee members. "Medicaid."

The impact of state mandates will once again play a starring role in this year's budget proposal, with Bleecker town Supervisor Dave Howard noting that 87 percent of last year's budget was mandated by the state.

Perth town supervisor and Finance Committee Chairman Greg Fagan said he believed that percentage would like rise, possibly to the lower 90s, due to the sale of the RHCF.

"We don't have anything left to sell," said Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead.

As they assessed the preliminary figures, committee members cited several figures they believed required further scrutiny, most notably the fuel estimates, which were figured using a flat rate of $3.50 as the standard.

"That's probably a good guesstimate," Broadalbin town Supervisor Joe DiGiacomo told the board.

Because the price of natural gas is currently much lower than in year's past, however, and the Department of Social Services building is currently in the process of transitioning to that use (the last of the county's buildings to do so,) committee members agreed fuel costs were an expenditure that required further investigation and could likely be lowered.

Fuel estimates for the coming year stand at just over $429,000 in the preliminary budget, up from nearly $427,000 for the current year.

"That's one to take a look at because natural gas is way down, now," Stead said.

Howard also targeted expenditures for the county's Youth Bureau for further scrutiny.

"I know I bring this up every year," Howard said. "I'm not sure the youth program needs to be in operation."

"Do they actually do anything that can't be done somewhere else," he added. "It's kind of a hold over from another time when there was a lot of money coming in and out."

"I kind of agree," DiGiacomo said, adding that he thought it was worth exploring whether those programs could be consolidated into another department.

The news for the county wasn't all dire, however, with Kuntzsch noting a projected increase in both sales tax and Off-Track Betting revenues for the coming year.

Committee members also noted that Fulton is one of only two counties in the state with no debt service.

"We're a lot better off than we were last year," DiGiacomo said.

"A lot can change between now and adoption," Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael F. Gendron cautioned.