FORT EDWARD — The proposed Washington County budget didn’t make many supervisors happy.
Although they tabled a vote on overriding the tax cap, the 2017 tentative budget requires an override.
“Unless you do a lot of changes, we will have to override the cap,” said Budget Officer and Hebron Supervisor Brian Campbell.
The budget’s tax levy increases 2 percent. The cap for 2017, taking inflation into consideration, wouldn’t allow a tax levy increase of more than 1.01 percent.
Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff wasn’t impressed.
“So I guess it’s up to us to sharpen our pencils,” he said.
Several supervisors said they would study the budget Monday night, looking for cuts before a meeting Tuesday morning on whether to override the tax cap.
Fort Ann Supervisor Richard Moore acknowledged that department heads made “realistic” requests for 2017.
“However, no one wants to see an increase in taxes,” Moore said. “I’m going to have to go home and do some real studying ... I wish there was a way to do more cuts.”
Easton Supervisor Dan Shaw complained that the proposed budget also spends too much of the county’s savings, called the fund balance.
“We’re not being realistic with our budgets. We’re spending our fund balance,” he said. “We need to be realistic by increasing taxes or cutting expenses, or maybe a compromise: a little bit of both.”
The general reaction was dissatisfaction with Campbell’s proposed budget.
Haff asked why Campbell hadn’t stuck to the tax cap.
Campbell said he didn’t get a clear message when supervisors voted to table the resolution that would have allowed them to override the cap.
“If you voted (the override) down, I came in at 1.01,” Campbell said. “Tabled told me nothing. Your message was not to sharpen my pencil.”
But that’s exactly what one supervisor told him to do after the vote last week. Haff told Campbell he should’ve listened.
“I think you’re very guilty of not reading the tea leaves,” he said.
Campbell did make some cuts. Two $10,000 raises didn’t make it into his proposal.
The director of personnel got a 1.5 percent raise instead, to $62,269.
The county attorney got the same raise plus an additional $5,000, to a total of $94,768.
In total, the proposed 2017 general fund is $82.19 million, up $1.25 million from this year.
The proposed tax levy is $32.09 million, up $629,280.
Haff asked supervisors to pore through the budget for cuts.
“Every $32,000 is a tenth of a percent (of the tax levy),” he said. “If every one of us could come up with $32,000, that all adds up.”
Campbell warned it wouldn’t be easy because so many expenses are tied to grants and other revenues.
“That’s the problem. You start looking and oh! There’s (revenue) tied to that,” he said.
The board will meet again Tuesday to vote on whether to override the cap. Treasurer Al Nolette appealed to them to override.
“Please consider overriding the tax cap tomorrow,” he said.
He was once a fan of the tax cap, he added. It forced the county to look more closely at its operations and be more fiscally responsible, he said.
“But at that time I don’t think any of us realized we might not be looking at a 2 percent cap,” he said.
He argued that the county couldn’t make ends meet with lower caps, because long-term labor contracts have locked in raises of more than 1 percent.
He also predicted problems if the county spent savings to keep the tax increase low. Eventually, the county would run out of savings and have to hike taxes.
“Nobody in the county wants to see a 30 percent tax increase because we’ve tried so hard to keep at 1 (percent) for years,” he said. “I’m a taxpayer here too, and I would rather see ten (years of) 2s than one 20 (percent), all day long.”