By MORGAN FRISCH
FONDA — Montgomery County legislators began amending the 2018 tentative executive budget on Monday, beginning with a decision to keep the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce as the county’s tourism agent.
The Montgomery County Budget and Finance Committee met with department heads to discuss possible amendments to the budget. Among the amendments to pass, legislators voted 8-0 to incorporate $85,000 to fund the tourism program through the chamber, which Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort had taken out of the budget.
District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly was not in attendance
The vote followed a discussion and public hearing where Chamber of Commerce President Mark Kilmer was the only person to speak.
“It was with quite dismay that I heard that this budget does not include funding for the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce to continue as the tourism program agency for Montgomery County,” he said.
In Ossenfort’s proposed $113.3 million spending plan, the chamber was not included as the tourism agent. Ossenfort said during the first tentative budget meeting that the economic development office would be the agent for the county and this would create an approximate $85,000 a year savings.
Kilmer said when the chamber “first engaged in the county” he said it would take several years of consistent and professional engagement before true results were seen.
“Since the three years we have been the county’s TPA, the following successes have taken place,” Kilmer said. “In the first year, we accomplished all goals we put forth, including the creation of a new county brochure, new and updated website and the established of an advanced social media program, with the new Montgomery County brand to name a few,” he said.
Kilmer said that when he heard about the program being shifted due to financial constraints he worked with other department members to make financial adjustments within their budget.
He said they were able to reduce the requested tourism budget from a proposed $117,132 to $66,236, a decrease of over $50,000. Compared to the $85,000 currently budgeted for, this would be an approximate $20,000 decrease.
District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell sponsored putting the chamber’s line back in the budget.
“I wholeheartedly stand behind putting this back into the budget,” he said.
Purtell explained how the relationship with the chamber has increased over the last few years, and said in business, if something is starting to work it would be hard to nip it in the bud.
Ossenfort said he’s had time to speak with Kilmer.
“I did not have any problems with the performance of the chamber, it was a financial decision and I applaud him for being able to make some reduction and squeeze the extra penny out of the nickel,” he said. “Should the legislature decide to continue with the chamber, I would not be opposed.”
Legislative Chairman Roy Dimond said the issue with the chamber was never with the work that they have done.
“I will be supporting moving the money back to the chamber,” he said.
District 8 Legislator Joseph Isabel said he was against using the chamber last year but sees they’ve made a lot of changes.
“They are providing us an up-to-date community calendar on Montgomery County and I think they are worth going forward on this,” he said.
Other amendments legislators approved by straw vote were to increase funding for the office for the aging by $20,000, increase funding for the soil conservation district by $10,000 and a $60,000 increase for motor vehicle equipment in the DPW budget.
Legislators also held a 2018 budget department review. The departments present included: personnel, sheriff, social services and public works.
Budget and Finance Committee Chairman and District 7 Legislator Michael Pepe called on each department head and asked questions about major changes in their budget. Legislators also chimed in to ask any further questions.
“We’ve called four departments to the legislator to get a little bit more detail about some of their line items,” Pepe said.
This stems from a meeting on Sept. 9 when legislators discussed the departments with the biggest net increases and decreases. These included personnel with a hike of $620,180; sheriff/jail, $413,590 and social services with $270,422. Public works was one of the departments with the biggest decreases of $98,828.
Some topics the Montgomery County Personnel Officer Nicole Yaggle was asked included the CSEA contract, total personnel expense, fringe benefits and an increase of hospital and medical insurance.
Montgomery County Sheriff Michael Amato answered questions regarding a line item for the boarding of prisoners and a previous 911 grant.
Department of Social Services Commissioner Michael McMahon discussed items such as family assistance, revenues and juvenile delinquents.
DPW Commissioner Eric Mead discussed his road/machinery fund and the need for maintenance to roads in the town of Glen, which would require more funding.
“That was the most meaningful, thoughtful, detailed discussion I’ve had on the budget since I started,”Ossenfort said.
Pepe said any amendments approved would be reincorporated into the budget and will be up for final approval in October.
More detail on the topics discussed with department heads and approved budget amendments will be in tomorrow’s edition of the Recorder.