Essex County makes little progress on budget
ELIZABETHTOWN – Essex County supervisors weren’t able to agree on anything but when their next budget workshop would be after more than four hours of work Wednesday.
They tried several attempts at establishing a starting point for the amount by which to raise the 2014 tax levy. First Wilmington town Supervisor Randy Preston proposing to start out at 9 percent, a change from the 15 percent increase proposed by county Manager Dan Palmer.
Palmer has proposed in the tentative budget the 15 percent as part of a five-year plan of declining tax increases that aim to structurally balance the budget so it doesn’t rely as much on fund balance to offset taxes as it has in the past, something the county was criticized for in a recent state audit.
Palmer had also given the budget subcommittee a plan that would increase the tax levy by 9 percent in each of the next five years, with the same aim, but it would deplete the county’s fund balance by the last year of the plan. Preston was proposing to switch to that plan.
After that proposal was defeated, Chesterfield Supervisor Gerald Morrow proposed a resolution to adopt Palmer’s five-year plan, which would start with the 15 percent increase in 2014. In 2015, the levy would increase by 10 percent, the following year it would increase by 8 percent, then 5, then it would be down to 2.
That resolution was also defeated. Eleven supervisors voted in favor of it, but North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi was absent from the meeting for health reasons, so his heavily weighted vote helped to defeat the yes votes.
“That leaves us, we’re open for anything at this point, as a starting point,” said board Chairman Randy Douglas.
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava also proposed an amendment that would cut $573,313 from a bridge bond payment in the 2014 budget, since the bond won’t actually need to be paid until 2015, and a $60,000 piece of equipment the highway department asked to buy. That proposal was defeated.
Preston proposed a resolution that would drop all the county’s appropriations to contract agencies, except for Essex County Soil and Water, to their 2013 levels, saving $63,356. That was also defeated.
After a lunch break, Palmer proposed a compromise that would take the $573,313 bridge bond payment out of the budget, but would set aside $300,000 from the $1.5 million in highway funds being used to offset taxes into a special reserve account for that purpose the following year. That would have dropped the tax levy increase to 11.67 percent.
“When you go down, my following year goes up,” Palmer said. “I’ve got to have some kind of compromise in there, or I’m never going to make up the difference.”
That proposal didn’t get enough votes to allow it onto the floor.
Supervisors talked about a number of other potential cuts or budget changes, but none of them went anywhere.
Supervisors agreed to another budget workshop starting at 9 a.m. Dec. 17. Minerva Supervisor Sue Montgomery-Corey requested that all department heads be there, and Douglas said he would send them a memo requesting their presence.
That date cuts it close to the final deadline for adopting a budget, Dec. 20. Palmer said it will be difficult for staff to work with that late adoption date, but it can be done.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or email@example.com.