Budgeting again

Budget Officer and Hebron Supervisor Brian Campbell gestures last year at a page of the 2017 budget requests. Campbell just completed his work on the 2018 budget.

Kathleen Moore, kmoore@poststar.com

FORT EDWARD — Supervisors approved next year’s budget Friday, but only after five supervisors said they had serious reservations about it.

The $86.5 million budget continues to spend savings to make ends meet. At this point, the county will run out of savings for the general fund in less than seven years if nothing changes.

“We’re spending money faster than the growth of our county,” said Easton Supervisor Dan Shaw. “I want to reduce expenditures at the county.”

The budget meets the tax cap, raising the tax levy by 2.06 percent. But Shaw said supervisors shouldn’t be satisfied with that. He noted the supervisors did not cut the proposed budget, but instead moved expenditures from one line to another.

“By applying fund balance (savings) and moving things around, I don’t feel we’re doing our job,” he said. “I can’t support this budget.”

He wasn’t alone. Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff proposed several cuts, as he has done regularly at meetings on the budget. All of his proposals were defeated.

Salem Supervisor Seth Pitts also objected to the budget, saying the county is paying salaries far above its means.

“I don’t believe in these massive adjustments that are going on here,” he said after a majority of the board approved several raises. “We’re a poor county.”

He voted against the budget for the eighth time. He has never voted for it.

One of the last-minute amendments that were discussed involved forfeiture funds, a revenue item that the county left at zero even though money is collected in that category every year.

Haff said the county should estimate the amount of money collected by the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office. The two agencies receive funds through criminal investigations, but the practice is criticized because federal law allows the agencies to seize money without charging or convicting the person who possessed it. In Washington County, many forfeitures come from convictions, but not all of them. They typically involve drug cases.

“With forfeiture, every time there is some public push-back. Is this a way to avoid that push-back?” Haff asked. “This is the people’s money and the people’s budget, and I think it should be transparent.”

County Administrator Chris DeBolt defended the budgetary practice, saying he would add the revenue in during the year as it is collected.

“Since it is unknown revenue, it is more transparent or correct to put in zero,” he said. “This is a way to say we don’t know what that revenue will be.”

Haff noted that many other revenues are estimated in the budget. But Treasurer Al Nolette said that, in one recent year, the district attorney’s office did not collect any forfeiture funds.

“There could be a year, God bless us, where there’s no forfeiture money,” he said.

You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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