County Approves Budget With Tax Rate Reduction

OSWEGO, NY – Oswego County residents will see another decrease in their taxes next year.

The county legislature Thursday night adopted the 2011 county budget.

For the seventh consecutive year, the tax rate has either stayed the same or decreased, according to Legislator Art Ospelt, chair of the county’s Finance and Personnel Committee.

When first proposed this fall, the 2011 budget contained a tax rate of $7.02 per $1,000 of assessed value, down slightly from this year’s $7.16.

The tax rate in the budget adopted Thursday night is $6.99.

Prior to the actual adoption of the spending plan, amendments were proposed and approved or rejected along party lines.

Majority Leader Fred Beardsley proposed one that had five parts, including to increase the projected sales tax revenues by $130,000.

Democrats unsuccessfully attempted the have the resolution taken in separate parts.

“We have never lumped all these together like this before,” Minority Leader Mike Kunzwiler pointed out.

He claimed it was “pretty underhanded” for the GOP to try to do it all as one.

Democrats proposed amendments such as eliminating health and welfare benefits for legislators, trimming the travel reimbursement for legislators (from $14,000 to $7,000) and chopping half of the furniture budgets for all departments. They all failed.

“The worst thing you can do in a budget is take projections and say I hope I am going to get something to pay for something,” Kunzwiler said following the meeting. “What happened tonight was very irresponsible. To use one piece of something to barter with another, I’ve never seen it since I have been on here for 14 years, I’ve never ever seen that tactic done.”

It wasn’t right for legislators, on either side of the aisle, he added.

“It’s smoke and mirrors again, using revenues you don’t know you’re going to get to offset a cost,” he said. “Don’t even ask me. Ask the taxpayers what they think about that type of philosophy; ask people if they do that in their home. It was pure politics tonight, it overcame good judgment.”

Ospelt, however, is confident that sales tax revenue will increase by as much, if not more, than what’s projected.

“The story tonight is that tax rate dropped to 6.99. That’s the story,” he said. “You can call it smoke and mirrors or whatever you want. We’ve held the line. Bottom line is this county is in good shape compared to a lot of other counties.”

“We never over-estimated the revenues and we’ve always come in with more,” he continued. “I think we’re all right.”

The minority leader, for the past three years, has said there would be financial trouble the next year, he said, adding, “We haven’t had any trouble yet. I’m not saying it won’t happen some day; but I don’t see it happening any time in the near future.”

The county still has to continue to do what is financially responsible and trim its budget.

“We’ve got to cut taxes. We haven’t cut a lot. But, every little bit helps,” Ospelt said.

The public had an opportunity to speak on the budget plan prior to the legislators voting on it.

Volney resident Myron Pringle praised the county’s airport.

Some people say it is a money pit, he said.

The solid waste department is the real money pit, he said, telling the legislators, “You keep putting more and more and more into it. It must be cut!” He added that the sheriff deserved a 10 percent raise to “bring him up where he should be.”

Granby resident Cheryl Holmes challenged the county lawmakers to think about who they represent, “employees, yourselves or the taxpayers.”

“If you are for the taxpayers, then you will cut and lower this budget more. If you ran for smaller government, lower taxes and the privilege of serving the people, then cut it 10 percent across the board. But, 20 percent is even better,” she said. “If you are serving yourself and the county employees, then you have been in office too long and you need to step down.”

Volney resident Penny Kerfien, president of Oswego County Library Council, thanked the county for supporting the local libraries.

“I just wanted to say thank you. We appreciate your support,” she said. “We would love to have more of your support.”

Donald Dodd, county DA, made a final plea to the legislature to return the coroner and deputy coroner positions to the budget.

By law, the DA’s office must investigate deaths, he said, adding, “This is not a ‘may’ it is a ‘must.’ These are ‘shall investigate’ as opposed to discretionary positions.”

The number of death cases they have investigated, as well as the associated costs, are “going up substantially,” he said.

The legislature didn’t put the approximately $13,800 for the positions back into the budget.