JOHNSTOWN - The Fulton County Board of Supervisors on Monday used another $1.8 million from the fund balance to lower the county's average property tax-rate increase to 1 percent before adopting the county's $89 million budget for 2013.
"I think we're making the right move," said Gloversville 6th Ward Supervisor Richard Ottalagano.
The budget's $28.4 million tax levy - the amount of money raised from property taxes - is up 2.4 percent in 2013, but it's below the 2.5 percent tax-levy cap set by the state. Overall appropriations for 2013 are down from $94 million in the 2012 county budget.
The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich
Public speaker David Huckans of Broadalbin makes a point during the Fulton County Board of Supervisors' public hearing on the 2013 budget Monday afternoon at the County Office Building in Johnstown.
Gloversville residents will see their county tax rate increase 1.7 percent, while city of Johnstown residents will face a 1.3 percent rate increase. All of Fulton County's municipalities will see their county taxes increase next year except the town of Mayfield. Residents there will see a 2.6 percent tax- rate decrease for 2013.
Final adoption of the budget followed afternoon and evening public hearings in which some members of the public were dissatisfied.
"I think you could do a little better," said town of Johnstown resident Ronald Drzewiski. "I think there's still corners to cut."
County Budget Director Alice Kuntzsch two weeks ago released a tentative 2013 county budget that showed an average tax-rate increase of about 8 percent. That figure was basically stuck at 8 percent until Monday's board session, during which county officials decided to apply $1.8 million of the fund balance to bring the levy and tax rates down. The final average county tax rate in the 2013 budget is $11.73 per $1,000 of assessed valuation - up 1.4 percent from the 2012 average rate of $11.57 per $1,000.
County Treasurer Terry Blodgett warned the board - after the county applied $3.3 million of the fund balance toward the 2013 budget - that the fund balance was now in a "caution zone."
"It may be a necessary evil that you're doing right now, but I think it's necessary," Blodgett said.
The county will have roughly $4.7 million in the fund balance as the county starts 2013.
"It's better than some and worse than others," Blodgett said of Fulton County's fund- balance level. "But I thank God we have it right now."
Blodgett said Fulton County has no debt, which "makes us heads above everybody at this point." The treasurer said he sees reimbursements from the state continuing to decrease, although there may be "some improvement" in sales tax in 2013.
County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said the state comptroller's office recommends counties have at least 10 percent of its general fund in the fund balance. Fulton County's general fund is about $75 million. That means the county's $4.7 million fund balance is below a recommended $7.5 million level.
Perth Supervisor Greg Fagan, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the county had to take the risk with the fund balance. He was optimistic reserves eventually will go up again.
"We put ourselves in a great position for the next budget coming up," Fagan said.
There was differing opinions at the board session about whether the fund balance is an emergency fund.
"The fund balance belongs to the taxpayers," said Johnstown 3rd Ward Supervisor Jack Callery. "It's their piggy bank. It's for emergencies. We're in an emergency."
But Stead told the board, "It's not really the emergency fund. It's actually for trying to stabilize your governmental budget."
Bleecker Supervisor David Howard said county residents continue to get "hammered" by high taxation. He urged the board to be more "creative" in the future and join with other counties to challenge the state next year.
Kuntzsch has said nine state- mandated cost areas have spiraled upward 22 percent since 2008 for the county. They make up about 75 percent of the 2013 tax levy. Those areas are Medicaid, public assistance, child welfare, preschool education, the Early Intervention program, probation, indigent defense, youth detention and pensions.
During the afternoon public hearing, David Huckans of Broadalbin didn't see too many positives in the county's fiscal situation and asked the board to take it easy on the fund balance.
"It's only going to get worse," he said. "You need to take responsibility now. Cut unmandated positions. I'm sorry, but you [have] to make tough decisions."
Barbara Heide of Bleecker said the area has become "ridiculously unaffordable" to live in.
Frank Rizio of Johnstown told the board members they should cut their salaries.
"I think, gentlemen, the buck stops here," Rizio said.
George Graham of Broadalbin said the county still has control over its tax levy and has a "gigantic opportunity" to trim its 23 departments further. He said supervisors are "going to increase the downward spiral of Fulton County homes."
"I know it's Christmas time, but the taxpayers aren't Santa Claus," Graham said.
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.