W ashington County’s 2013 budget was approved by the county Board of Supervisors on Friday, but not without considerable debate.
The budget just snuck through, adopted by a 10-7 vote.
The $115 million spending plan calls for a 3.08 percent or $877,000 increase in the county’s $30 million tax levy.
The budget will comply with the 2 percent tax cap because the mandate allows counties to roll over a percentage of the previous year’s tax levy.
The most hotly debated budget items were pay raises for department heads and county lawyers and the amount of fund balance, or unused money with no specific designation, that was used to reduce the overall tax levy.
The county will pay just under $148,000 to adjust the pay of its administrators, a decision that is not sitting well with several supervisors and the public.
During a public hearing Friday several members of the public spoke out against the raises, questioning their timing.
“I don’t fell like there should be a raise in all these categories at this time,” opined Martin Hennessey, a Hebron resident.
Brian Campbell, the Hebron supervisor and county budget officer, argued that the raises are necessary because Washington County’s pay scales weren’t competitive with other counties and made it difficult to find qualified applicants to fill vacant positions. For instance, Warren County’s district attorney makes $30,000 more than her Washington County peer.
“If somebody in this county thinks they can make more money somewhere else, they should put their shoes on and go,” said Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff, who has repeatedly expressed his objections to the raises, calling them poorly timed.
“People are overburdened by taxes as it is, the wage increases are not necessary.”
He also questioned the fairness of targeted pay raises for administrators, which in some instances are greater than the 1.5 percent across the board raises given to union employees.
Greenwich Supervisor Sara Idelman countered by arguing the county’s department heads are grossly underpaid.
“We know what from experience what happens when we hire the wrong department head,” she said. “We always forget that our workers are taxpayers. They don’t take the money and run.”
Campbell said the raises will cost $.25 per $100 of tax money.
Several supervisors also questioned the amount of fund balance to be used. The budget calls for nearly $7.3 million to pay for expenses and buy down the tax levy. It’s projected that there will be just under $6 million left in the fund balance after next year. Treasurer Al Nolette has advised the county not to dip below a fund balance of $5 million.
Jackson Supervisor Alan Brown and Hampton Supervisor Dave O’Brien both questioned what would happen if the sale of Pleasant Valley and the Public Health Department fell through and the county is unable to unload its transfer stations.
“I’m optimistic the transition will happen but what happens if they don’t. I’m a realist but may be should we make adjustments,” O’Brien said.
Brown unsuccessfully proposed an amendment that would have seen $500,000 taken from the county road maintenance fund to boost the fund balance.
He said if county’s privatization efforts proved successful, the money could be moved back to the road fund.
Cambell’s budget is contingent on the privatization of Pleasant Valley, the Public Health Department and the county-owned transfer stations.
Although the tax levy will increase by only 3.08 percent, the countywide tax rate will increase by more than 6 percent, from $5.81 per $1,000 of assessed value to $6.17.
The difference is due to the equalization rate. As a whole, property in the county is assessed at 75 percent of its actual value.
A complete copy of the county budget is available on its website, www.co.washington.ny.us.
How they voted
The Washington County Board of Supervisors approved its 2013 budget by a wide margin, 2,854 to 1,406. But individually, it was a lot closer, 10-7.
John Rymph (Easton): Yes
John LaPointe (Putnam): Yes
Brian Campbell (Hebron): Yes
Bob Henke (Argyle): Yes
William Watkins (Cambridge): No
Bob Banks (Dresden): Yes
Darlene Dumas (Fort Ann): Yes
Mitch Suprenant (Fort Edward): No
Matt Hicks (Granville): Yes
Sara Idelman (Greenwich): Yes
Dave O’Brien (Hampton): No
Dana Haff (Hartford): No
Alan Brown (Jackson): No
James Lindsay (Kingsbury): Yes
Seth Pitts (Salem): No
Robert Shay (White Creek): No
George Armstrong (Whitehall): Yes