County Departments’ Budgets Under The Microscope

OSWEGO, NY – County legislators got to work Monday examining the department budgets that will make up the entire 2012 spending plan.

The Strategic Planning and Government Committee meeting covered several departments including: Clerk of Legislature, County Attorney, County Legislature, District Attorney, the Oswego County Library Council, Oswego County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and Mercy Flight Central.

“The (draft) budget looks quite different than it did last year,” according to Phil Church, county administrator. “As it stands right now, the nuclear power plants are on the tax rolls for 2012 because there is no agreement. All the money that was in PILOT revenue goes onto the levy. But also full value goes up because the value of the plants goes up.”

“So, the total numbers of the budget look totally different then they have the past 10 years (when there was a PILOT),” he continued. “Our goal is to comply with the tax cap (set by the state) when the budget is passed.”

The county’s 2012 budget will be passed on Dec. 15 (the last scheduled legislature meeting of the year) or shortly thereafter because by law it must be passed by Dec. 20.

“So we got a lot of work left to do yet, but I am confident that we will get there,” Church said.

Chief Assistant District Attorney (and candidate for DA) Greg Oakes spoke on behalf of his department.

In 2010, they handled about 721 felony cases. This year, as of Oct. 21, the number was 705. They expect to likely finish the year with more than 800 cases, Oakes said.

He added that they are making due with what they have and isn’t asking for any additional staff.

“We appreciate the incoming district attorney, his efforts as to keeping costs down and not bringing forward to the committee as far as any personnel changes. We do appreciate your efforts,” said Legislator Jim Oldenburg.

The director of the Williamstown Library and president of the Oswego County Library Council spoke on behalf of that group.

She told the committee that 46.4 percent of the charter population in Oswego County holds library cards.

“Library usage is increasing by 15 to 30 percent while budgets are cut 10 to 15 percent. With operating costs continuing to rise, even if library budgets remain constant, which they don’t, something has to give,” she said. “That means fewer books, computers and hours. Budget cuts continue as library use soars.”

State aid to the North Country Library System has decreased 22 percent in the last four years; yet the state budget has increased from $66 billion to more than $133 billion, she pointed out, adding, “Libraries have been left behind.”

“There isn’t a library in this county that doesn’t work our butts off for fundraisers. So we don’t just sit and wait for people to give us money. We work all the time,” she added.

“Maybe we ought to look at a little bit of an increase here,” suggested Legislator Doug Malone. “We cut the guts out of them a few years ago.”

He moved to send a proposal to the personal and finance committee to recommend to the full legislature a 7 percent increase for the libraries in 2012. That would mean about $58,800 for the libraries.

The resolution was unanimously approved.

Mercy Flight was asking for $5,000 from the county, according to Milferd Potter, committee chair.

“My way, up east, the helicopter does fly up there to rescue snowmobilers and occasionally a car accident,” he said. “I’m not sure where the helicopter is out of; if it is Mercy Flight or which helicopter it is. We do see them … quite a few times a year.”

Legislator Oldenburg pointed out that Mercy Flight is privately owned with home offices in Canandaigua. They charge approximately $10,000 a rescue, Potter added.

Mercy Flight is in Onondaga County, Oldenburg said. “Onondaga County Air One is the Onondaga County owned helicopter and they are starting a federation to raise funds to keep that running,” he added.

“I’d rather be reimbursing Onondaga County for their helicopter rather than Mercy Flight,” Potter said. “Mercy flight is charging money for their services.”

Legislator Bob Hayes said he is interested in seeing how many times Mercy Flight has assisted someone in Oswego Count over the past year.

“Five thousand dollars is a lot of money. If they were serious about us giving them $5,000, they would have had a representative here,” Oldenburg said.

The motion to provide the funds for Mercy Flight failed for lack of a second.

On Monday afternoon, the Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee reviewed the budgets for E-911, Emergency Management, Fire Coordinator, Probation, Sheriff, and Search and Rescue.

On Tuesday, the Economic Development and Planning Committee and the Infrastructure and Facilities Committee will review the departments under their umbrellas.