After spending much of the day negotiating cuts to the final Sullivan County budget for 2013, at about 9 p.m., the legislature voted to adopt a budget that comes with an 8.9% tax increase. That’s down from the tentative budget that was adopted on November 1, which called for an increase of about 13.77%.
Savings in the projected cost of health care for county employees accounted for about a 2% reduction. Another significant reduction was due to a nearly $520,000 cut to contracted agencies, such as Cornell Cooperative Extension, Boys and Girls Club, Delaware Valley Arts Alliance, the Eagle Institute and the Partnership for Economic Development.
Further savings were found by eliminating funds for three vacant positions, an administrative assistant and two deputy sheriffs.
The vote to pass the budget was six to three, with Cindy Gieger, Kitty Vetter and Alan Sorensen voting against it, seeking additional cuts.
Kathy LaBuda said while she had never voted for such an increase in the past, this tax hike was necessary to maintain a reasonable level of services to the community. She detailed some of the reasons for the increase: “We’ve added staff to our veterans services, so our returning vets receive the benefits they are worthy of. We funded our college to the tune of $4 million, so that our children can have a college education…. We continue to fund our nursing home, so that our seniors, who have worked so hard and have paid taxes their whole lives to this county, have a safe place when their families can no longer care for them at home.”
Gieger expressed dissatisfaction with the budget process. She said, “I truly believe there’s a lack of accountability and oversight of our tax dollars,” and she added, “Without a reduction in services, we will continue to overburden our taxpayers.”
The county manager
There was speculation that the legislature would take up the matter of the county manager during the December 20 meeting. Two days earlier, legislators Gene Benson and Cora Edwards held a press conference calling for the replacement of county manager David Fanslau, who was not in attendance.
Several people who are familiar with the situation said in order to change the county manager it was necessary to have the support of six of the nine legislators, a supermajority.
At the end of the meeting, Benson said, “I’ve been given 16 different opinions” about the process of replacing the county manager. He said that the latest information he had was that the county manager’s “employment agreement” with the county ends at the end of this month and, after that, Fanslau would become a per diem employee with the county, and then the legislature can do as it pleases regarding the county manager position.
He said at the end of the public meeting, “Five legislators were on board with this, but after being given all the different advice, I don’t know if we should go through with it as a resolution; we’ve been told we don’t have to. But we would like to make a statement and make sure it’s on the record that we would like to make a change in the county manager’s office.”