October 20, 2021

County finances concern legislators

Cortland County Seal

Cortland County legislators agree something drastic must be done to get spending under control, otherwise the county will be broke in eight years — although some legislators think it’s more like three.

Legislator Kevin Whitney (R-Cortlandville), the chairman and acting county administrator, presented a $135 million 2020 draft budget to legislators Monday and noted that he, Budget and Finance Director Andrea Herzog and Information Technology Director Rob Copora worked with department heads over the last month to whittle down the county’s gap in its budget from almost $9.4 million to the $2.9 million. That draft doesn’t include changes to workers’ compensation.

Whitney is now leaving it to the legislators to figure out what else can be adjusted to create a tentative budget to have hearings on.

But besides worrying over this year’s budget, legislators are looking at what they can do so the county doesn’t keep finding itself in financial holes.

Whitney said he hates to pass blame but said that laws and actions by Gov. Andrew Cuomo aren’t making it easy on counties.

“The governor is going to bankrupt this county if we can’t figure something out,” he said.

Legislator Paul Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton) said the county should hire someone to come in and help them fix the problems.

“We’re fiscally failing,” he said.

Heider also suggested reaching out to the New York State Association of Counties and other similar organizations for help.

“There is help for us and we need to get right away,” he said.

Legislator Cathy Bischoff (D-Cortland) agreed with Heider that the county needs to hire someone to restructure it so the county doesn’t keep digging itself into the same hole year after year.

Ann Homer (D-Cortland) suggested rather than spending money to hire someone the county should call Erie County, which she believed went into receivership a few years back and ask officials how they were able to get back into good fiscal standing.

But the county also needs to find additional revenue sources, said Legislator Michael Barylski (D-Cortlandville). He said if county residents spent $1,000 more a year purchasing items from within the county that were taxable, it would be an almost $2 million increase in revenue.

Whitney noted several elements of the draft:

  • There was a request for $1.1 million in new positions, none of which were approved.

“Can you safely say we’re in a hiring freeze?” asked Legislator George Wagner (R-Marathon,Lapeer).

“We haven’t said that yet,” Whitney replied.

  • The Area on Aging took a $220,000 cut.
  • The Department of Social Services had a $3 million increase, but by working with Commissioner Kristen Monroe it is now a $2 million increase.
  • The general fund has $11 million in it. That number was based off of the 2017 books and resolutions that had been passed to take money out of the fund.
  • There was a $1.2 million increase in county health insurance coverage — an almost 9% increase from last year.
  • The increase in the amount to be raised by local property taxes is expected to be the maximum 3.27% allowable this year by the state.

“Did you allow an edge if we made a mistake?” Wagner asked. “At this point no, we will once we move forward with the tentative budget,” Copora replied.

“I’m not necessarily an advocate of these changes. We were just tasked with trying to produce a budget,” Whitney said. “The only thing I want to say to everyone is, you’re not fighting with me you’re fighting with taxpayers. I’m just providing the document.”

Legislators have until the end of the month to provide Whitney with changes to produce a tentative budget.

Whitney said once the tentative budget is done there will be public hearings on it.

The budget must be voted on by Dec. 20.