The challenge and opportunity in preparing a county budget

LUIS ALVAREZ
Posted 11/14/18

By the time you read this, the Sullivan County legislature will be poring over the tentative 2019 county budget as proposed to us by county manager Josh Potosek. It’s a huge document that the …

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The challenge and opportunity in preparing a county budget

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By the time you read this, the Sullivan County legislature will be poring over the tentative 2019 county budget as proposed to us by county manager Josh Potosek. It’s a huge document that the county manager and every division, department and unit in county government have been working on for months.

What dominates legislators’ minds is how to balance a budget between taking care of our employees and taking care of our taxpayers. We can’t do that on the backs of either group —some of whom are one and the same—but the challenge lies in providing our hard-working staff a good salary and benefits that won’t unduly burden taxpayers.

Costs are rising exponentially, even during a time when the county has benefitted from increased wages and tax revenue (particularly sales taxes). Healthcare and services we are state-mandated to provide are steadily eating up much of the increased funding we’ve gained.

Our crew of more than 1,000 employees deserves a livable wage—they’ve certainly earned it. They work hard, do what is right, don’t give up and provide compassionate, competent service day after day. We have several 24-hour departments: the sheriff’s office (patrol and jail), the care center at Sunset Lake, the 911 center and, when conditions demand, our division of public works. If no one is available to relieve them at the end of their shifts, they cannot go home, no matter what responsibilities, gatherings, or needs await them.

I witnessed this firsthand when I was a sheriff’s deputy, and I still do, even though I’m now retired. I’ve watched deputies wonder if they will have to miss their children’s birthday parties, not to mention a simple family dinner. It’s an incredibly tough situation that you never truly get used to, even though the job demands it.

But even then, these folks remain on duty, serving with pride, care and professionalism. That level of service deserves proper pay, benefits and praise, not just for a job well done but to ensure we keep the kind of people who give their best every day, no matter the circumstances.

Sullivan County cannot keep losing the best we have—the backbone of our staffing—to other places that pay better. Our citizens deserve the best, and so do our employees. They ARE Sullivan County. And I assure you this legislature will keep that in mind as we near the December adoption of the 2019 county budget.

[Luis Alvarez is chairman of the Sullivan County Legislature.]

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