Franklin County passes budget

MALONE – The Franklin County board of legislators barely passed the 2014 budget with a 5.05 percent tax levy increase.

The increase will add $300,000 to the county’s fund balance, which has dropped from $16.5 million to $5.7 million – that’s 65 percent – from the start of the 2009 fiscal year to the end of the 2012 fiscal year.

Instead of relying on the general fund balance, the county will instead borrow $1.25 million from the fund balance of the county’s State Retirement System account to balance the budget. In a public budget meeting last month, county Manager Tom Leitz said the county could repay that at 3.75 percent interest across 12 years.

Last year the county borrowed $4 million to pay its bills.

The resolution to exceed the state mandated 1.68 percent tax cap passed unanimously, but three legislators, Chairman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, Gordon Crossman, D-Brighton, and Guy “Tim” Smith, D-Fort Covington, voted no on the 2014 budget.

Those who voted for the budget defended the tax cap override as a necessary step toward preparing for future budgets.

Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, called the budget equitable considering the times we’re in.

“If you look at a $100,000 home, assessed at full value, the increase is going to be about $21,” Maroun said. “What we’ve done here is try to keep a levy that’s acceptable to the general population, while at the same time the state comptroller’s office.”

Maroun was referring to the state comptroller’s report, released in September, that criticized county legislators for using the fund balance to balance past budgets.

“What the governor fails to realize is that, when he said the 2 percent cap, which everybody calls it, he also said he was going to reduce mandates,” Maroun said. “If they want to reduce the mandates, then they want to get of the Triborough bridge agreement, and they want to get rid of items that cost the county money, and they want to get rid of state agencies that demand of us what we have to do at the jail and what we have to do in other facilities that we run but have no control over. Then you’re going to have true tax relief.”

Legislator Tim Lashomb, R-Malone, also voted yes on the budget.

“We started off this budget process at about 8.76 percent, and in that process, in order to make that budget balance, we understood that we had to borrow $1 million,” Lashomb said. “Now, to make this budget work, we need to borrow $1.25 million. That’s a lot of money.”

Lashomb said that, in the 1980s, the county was forced to raise the tax levy by 18 percent one year to balance the budget. By raising it 5.05 percent in 2014, he said the county can hopefully avoid that kind of a drastic increase in future budgets.

Crossman voiced his concerns with next year’s budget.

“Too many people I represent are struggling very much to try and save their homes, so I’m going to vote no,” Crossman said. “I see where the state and federal government is cutting us all the time, and the burden falls on our shoulders, and it’s really too much. We’re going to have to be very, very strict on our spending this coming year.”

Jones also said the county would have to be strict with its spending in 2014.

“I think we can get to the cap in one more yearif we can siphon a little bit of money off and put it into the fund balance,” Jones said. “I think municipalities are holding the line. It’s getting crunch time now, where we’re really getting up to the edge, but I feel like we can’t really go back to the taxpayer this year. We need to be treated fairly from the state of New York. We can hold the line, but they need to do their part, too, and that’s why I’m a no.”