In a surprising move, the Sullivan County Legislature voted six to three on December 15 to reject the budget they have spent months working on. The legislators did not come up with a new budget by December 20; therefore the tentative budget, which was submitted by county manager David Fanslau on November 16, automatically became the adopted budget.
As a practical matter, it would not have made a great deal of difference if the legislature had approved the final budget because there are few differences between that and the tentative draft. However, one significant difference is that the $25,000 for Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development, which last week was inserted into the proposed final budget, will now not be available. There is a possibility that the newly elected legislators may decide to re-fund the group after the new board takes office in January.
The budget had come under criticism in recent weeks because it dips into reserve funds to the tune of more than $6 million, leaving very little reserves for the new legislature, which will have six new members.
The existing legislature had given the county manager direction that the budget should be created without surpassing the Albany-mandated 2% property tax cap, without cutting services and without laying off any county employees. With those parameters, the only option left was to dip heavily into reserves.
The existing legislature had given the county manager direction that the budget should be created without surpassing the Albany-mandate 2% property tax cap, without cutting services and without laying off any county employees. With those parameters, the only option left was to dip heavily into reserves.
The reasons the legislators gave for voting down the budget were varied. Legislator Jodi Goodman, chair of the Management and Budget Committee, said the reason she was not voting in favor of the budget was because “It has come to my attention that some of the newly elected and some of the existing legislators want to blame me for the budget; I want to remind the public, I’m one of nine.”
Lawmaker David Sager, who has been advocating that legislature override the 2% property tax cap with a supermajority vote, said it was probably a mistake that lawmakers voted for no tax increase in 2011 as opposed to a modest one.
Lawmaker Ron Hiatt said he had been considering voting against the budget as a way of making a statement, but he said instead he decided simply to make the statement. He also said he opposed the 2% property tax cap. He added, “We’re about to spend down the little reserves that we have, feel bad for the new legislators coming in.”
Lawmaker Leni Binder said she was going to vote against the budget because that was the will of the new legislator who will be replacing her, Gene Benson.
In the end, Binder, Sager, Goodman, Frank Armstrong, Elwin
Wood, and Kathy LaBuda voted against the budget, while Hiatt, Alan Sorenson and county chairman Jonathan Rouis voted in favor.
Rouis reacted to the vote with visible frustration and urged his colleagues to work with him over the next five days to come up with a budget they can support. He said, “It’s a fundamental responsibility of this board to adopt a budget. (This vote) is a copout, it’s not doing your job; it’s not doing the people of this county any service sitting here voting no and allowing the tentative budget to move forward. Step up and do your jobs.”