By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
FONDA -- In what some Montgomery County supervisors hoped would foster an understanding of the 2013 budget process, the Finance Committee on Wednesday relayed the county's fiscal state to department heads and some union representatives.
"The supervisors are criticized for not having two- and three-year budget plans," said Chairman and Root Supervisor John Thayer. "It's time to have a plan."
Thayer, St. Johnsville Supervisor Dominick Stagliano and county Treasurer Shawn Bowerman led the illustrated presentation, which focused heavily on the county's fund balance, and the supervisors reliance of those reserves in balancing the budget.
Bowerman's $92 million preliminary plan released Oct. 1 uses $1.34 million in fund balance and does not cut any positions. He cited the board's self-described historical tendency to reinstate cuts he's proposed.
"Because of the overuse of fund balance the last five years, you'll see the chart go in the drastically wrong direction," Bowerman said. "You can see a direct correlation to balance the past budgets."
"We don't learn from our mistakes," Bowerman said later. "It's a 10-year viscous cycle with the fund balance."
The problem with that, Stagliano said, is the means that raised the fund balance to its former height are no longer options: sale of the county's former nursing home, stimulus money, and increasing the county's sales tax rate from 3 percent to 4 percent.
"There's no nursing home to sell, there will be no sales tax increase," he said.
The Finance Committee's 2013 budget recommendation to the board includes 35 layoffs, eliminates all outside agency funding, doesn't use fund balance, and stays within the state-imposed tax cap.
Currently, the presentation indicated, the fund balance rests at $6 million. If Bowerman's recommendation to use $1.3 million in fund balance is enacted, it would bring it down to about $4.6 million.
"The goal," said Bowerman, "is to keep the fund balance at that level. Even $4.6 million is low for a $93 million budget. The lowest the state recommends is no less than 5 percent of the budget, and that $4.6 million is close to that."
So what the supervisors asked from the audience was suggestions how the county could move forward to change the way it does business. Some of the ideas were to consider merging departments like the Youth Bureau with Fulton County, and to consider how it would save the counties money if Fulton-Montgomery Community College became a state institution.
"The department heads have a job to do, and we don't expect them to take a slash and burn on their budgets," Stagliano said. "I hope what they took away from it was an appreciation of what the financial condition of the county is, and how we're better of planning our future instead of reacting."
CSEA Unit President Edward Russo said he was glad the supervisors took the time to have the presentation.
"I think my biggest point is labor wants to work with management, and some supervisors think the answer is just to lay people off. They need to meet with us to tell us what's going on, like they just did, because cutting people just means they're cutting services."
Sheriff Michael Amato, who stands to lose five deputies under the most recent budget proposal, had mixed feelings about it. He's had two long-time investigators resign to work for the Gloversville Police Department in the past months.
"I'm glad they had the presentation, but I feel it's too late. It's November. They've given us three or four budgets, and I'm disgusted what they've done. It's killing the morality of my department to have those kind of cuts."