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October 28, 2016
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Proposed Sullivan budget increase: 13.77%

There are no layoffs or cuts in services in the Sullivan County proposed 2013 budget, but county officials are anticipating raising the property tax rate by 13.77%. Moreover, according to the budget message prepared by county manager David Fanslau, in order to keep the budget from rising more than that amount, the county legislature must take a number of steps.

First, Fanslau urges that lawmakers alter the method through which officials hire new employees for vacated positions by “automatically defunding” any position that becomes vacant. This, he says, will help dissuade lawmakers from hiring new employees simply because a position is “budgeted.”

Also, he cut back the level of proposed capital spending. He did, however, recommend the legislature support the upgrade of the county’s emergency communications system because “it was established in the 1950s, and parts are no longer available to
fix the system should a catastrophic incident occur.”

Further, he urges the legislature to study whether it should continue to provide services that might be more efficiently provided by the private sector, such as in the case of the Adult Care Center (ACC) in Liberty. He writes, “There is a fundamental disadvantage that public nursing home facilities have to endure while competing in the market for residents with non-public facilities. The ACC has a higher cost of doing business, due to the dysfunctional New York State Civil Service Law and Regulations, the New York State Procurement Law and the overlapping of four collective bargaining agreements that are redundantly immersed with the civil service system.”

Fanslau further recommended the county consider eliminating the practice of directly providing mental health services to residents. He wrote, “The mental hygiene functions could potentially be provided through the New Hope Community, the Recovery Center, or others that have a presence either in Sullivan County or service Sullivan County.” He said such a move could potentially save the county $1 million.

He said the same consideration should be made regarding the Certified Home Health Agency (CHHA). He said, “A number of New York State counties either have chosen or are choosing to sell their respective CHHA licenses to permit the private sector to provide a service ... to reduce and eliminate ongoing and increasing liabilities associated with current and post employment benefits.”

The budget message, which was released on November 4, said the cause for the double-digit tax increase lies not with spending that the county can control, which has risen only 1.6% since 2008, but lies with state-mandated increases in spending from Albany. The mandated increase, Fanslau wrote, included: $22 million for Medicaid, $1 million for childcare, $3.2 million for staffing for the state’s programs, $2.7 million for the early intervention program, $11.4 million for the jail, $1.3 million for indigent defense and $2.8 million for the Safety Net Program.

He wrote, “The Safety Net Program is very concerning, as this is not a federal mandate, but rather a creature of New York State to provide assistance once recipients exceed the five-year maximum assistance under federal law. New York State established the Safety Net Program, but it is not eligible for federal reimbursement, therefore, the state decided to send 71% of the bill to the county’s property taxpayers, rather than fully fund their program at the state level.”

The legislature must finalize the budget before the end of the year.