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Sullivan 2012 budget dips into reserves

November 16, 2011

The tentative 2012 budget for Sullivan County was presented at the government center on November 10, and it will use about $6.3 million out of a reported $10 million of the undedicated reserve fund. County manager David Fanslau said he constructed the budget to stay within the Albany mandated 2% property tax cap, but also to offer the same level of services to the public as in 2011, and to avoid any layoffs.

But his budget leaves the undedicated reserve fund at about $3.5 million, which some consider to be too low. Legislator Alan Sorensen said in an email, “The county must do more to cut costs so that appropriations are in line with revenues. Obviously, use of dwindling fund balance to close budget gaps is not sustainable.”

The total budget is nearly $194 million, an increase of about $2.87 million over this year. The increase is needed to pay for negotiated wage increases, as well as increases in programs that are mandated by the state and federal governments.

As he has done often over the past few years, Fanslau pointed the blame regarding the county’s financial struggles on the state. He said in a press release, “More than 93% of Sullivan County’s property tax levy is consumed to pay the bills for the services that the state government requires to be provided on the state’s behalf, and yet the state fails to fund their own programs. Therefore, only seven percent of the county’s property tax levy is available for the discretionary spending that includes public works and public safety.”

One of the biggest chunks of the budget comes in the form of the state-mandated county share of Medicaid payments, which next year are projected to total more than $21 million.

Fanslau called on Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senator John Bonacic and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther to “join 48 other states, and to take the Medicaid expenses off of the backs of the property taxpayers of Sullivan County.” He said this single move will put the county in the black for years to come.

He also urged Cuomo to make good on his promise to pursue mandate relief for other programs. The tentative budget, Fanslau said, was formulated with the idea that mandate relief would be forthcoming. If mandate relief is not forthcoming, the legislature will need to make a decision about how to proceed by the end of the first quarter of 2012. He said without mandate relief, “the fundamental reality is that Sullivan County will have to ultimately choose to reduce or eliminate services, or override the property tax cap law.”