W ashington County Budget Officer Brian Campbell said he took more than 100 copies of the tentative Washington County budget when he left Fort Edward to go to Washington County towns to talk about the 2011 budget, but he didn’t need nearly that many.
Discussion at the Granville village hall on the night of Nov. 5 was much the same as it had been in Salem, Greenwich and Whitehall, focusing on one facet of the budget, the proposed closure of the Washington County waste transfer centers.
Asked what it meant to him to field so many questions and hear so many comments on one subject and so little on the rest of the budget, Campbell said just because he was not hearing about a zero tax increase budget didn’t mean people weren’t thinking about it.
“Believe me they want zero percent and recycling and that’s where the tires hit the pavement,” he said.
Campbell started the meeting with a brief overview of some of the factors driving this budget, including more than a $1 million increase in the cost of the retirement system to a drop-off in the expected sales tax revenues.
“We’ve got ways of getting it to zero or three percent, but you’ve got to watch that,” Campbell said, warning the ripple effect of going too low in 2011 could mean a huge surge in the tax levy for 2012.
Concerning the transfer stations issue, several in attendance last Friday said they would be happy to pay higher fees if it meant the transfer stations could stay open.
Others questioned what the alternative to transfer stations would be and said they thought it was a step toward the bad old days when the landscape was dotted with discarded refrigerators and hastily discarded refuse.
Campbell said individuals hiring private haulers to remove their garbage was at least one option to having transfer stations open. But some questioned the cost of such a move.
Ed Burkhart said after checking into private haulers his cheapest option he found was $40 a month for such a service.
Supervisor Jim Lindsey of Kingsbury said Burkhart should keep looking because he was aware of several cheaper options much closer to $20 per month.
Hartford’s supervisor, Dana Haff, said he favored getting rid of the transfer stations and putting refuse in private hands simply because he thought government “can’t do anything right.”
Lindsey said he had tried for five years to get the stations to operate efficiently and at least break even and he had seen no success in the effort.
Granville’s Nicholas Silitch told Campbell he thought the centers were “not a profit center” but should be charging more for stickers if that could keep them open.
Granville Mayor Jay Niles spoke in favor of keeping the stations open, particularly the one in Granville, because he said people using the transfer stations also come in to the town and village to spend money, getting anything from gas to lunch or groceries.
Campbell was asked if the stations could be kept open but sold to a private company. Lindsay said the matter was considered before and no private companies were interested because the transfer stations continually operated at a loss. He said the county subsidizes the transfer stations to the tune of about $1 million a year.
Harry Haldt of Granville said he thought something was fundamentally wrong with the county’s budget system after he asked about priorities and was told by Campbell there were mandates “and there’s not much left after that.” Campbell said state and federal mandates control huge amounts of spending in the budget each year.
Campbell said putting the transfer stations back in the budget represented roughly a .25 percent to .5 increase, and it could be done if people wanted to see the budget grow instead of shrink.
Campbell said he was not confident the budget would pass with that kind of increase or at its current size. “I doubt it will pass above five (percent levy increase),” he said.
“We heard what the taxpayers said,” he said, referring to the Nov. 2 elections. “Tuesday we heard what the taxpayers said they want smaller government but they still want their services so somehow we’re going to get there.”
Although he is the budget officer, Campbell said, getting the tax levy lower would require a group effort.
“If we work as a team and all put our heads together, we’ll come up with a plan,” Campbell said.
He said the public meetings on the budget – Granville was the last one — varied between a large group in Greenwich and Salem and smaller groups in Whitehall and Granville.
“Granville and Whitehall both were pretty much very respectful and everyone listened — great meetings both places. The other ones — it wasn’t like they were disrespectful and didn’t listen; they were just boisterous and got a little wild,” Campbell said.
Despite two days of multiple presentations each evening, Campbell said, he enjoyed the meetings and hearing what people had to say about the budget – even if most of the talk was about trash and recycling.
“I heard what they had to say and they really listened to what I had to say,” Campbell said.
Campbell said later he thought the budget was in a survival mode after years of cutting through deferring certain tasks such as maintaining the county roads system. The county cannot maintain the roads it has without paving more than five miles of road next year, he said.
“This is the first time where we’ve said, you know what? We can’t keep doing it this way,” Campbell said.
Campbell said he expected the final budget to be settled at the last budget meeting on Nov. 10 prior to the public hearing on the county budget at 10 a.m. on Nov. 12.