Residents ask legislature for more cuts
YATES COUNTY—More than 40 residents attended the Yates County Legislature's latest budget workshop Wednesday, Nov. 28 to ask them to take one last look at the budget to find a way to lower the projected 16.7 tax levy increase for 2013.
Legislator Tim Dennis requested having the department heads go back over the budget one last time and having them present what their department would look like with an additional 5 percent cut during next week's standing committee meetings Monday, Dec. 3 and Tuesday, Dec. 4. He said if approved by the legislature, these cuts could add up to more than $700,000 in savings. Dennis said he would like the department heads to go through the net budget numbers and make cuts to expenses rather than overestimating of revenues.
"I know it is late in the game, but I think we owe it to the citizens to take one last look," Legislator Richard Willson said.
County Chairman H. Taylor Fitch said he believes the county has cut all it possibly could while maintaining the services it offers to the community. He said the largest increases in the 2013 budget have been in the social services, public safety and community college line items and that these expenses are mandated by the state. Fitch said the county may be able to do a few things but he does not want "a feeble exercise that gets everybody up in arms but we don't really do anything."
Many residents who spoke during the public comment section of the meeting agreed with Dennis's idea, commending the legislature for their hard work while also expressing the need to bring the levy increase down.
"I think you are on the one-yard line and you have to go the rest of the way," resident Bebette Yunis said. "I think you owe that to us as taxpayers. I know you have all been through it, but too bad, you have to do it again."
Part-time Jerusalem resident Mike Robinson brought up the prospect of initiating change through union contracts, saying there is always something out there that can be done to help the budget situation. He also said 2014 will be another tough year.
"I don't think the situation can be resolved one time," Robinson said. "It's a multiple-year process. This isn't going to be the last year you are doing this, and be aware that there are a lot of people out there that are going to be impacted by this."
Resident John Murphy said he thinks many of the people who spoke have been critical of the legislature saying they could do more, but he added he truly believes they have done all they can. Field Advisor for the New York Farm Bureau Skip Jensen said the key idea is to start going after the state legislators for implementing the mandates that are driving the budget. Jensen said the legislature should work with the farm bureau, go to the state and say "You mandate them, you fund them."
Legislator Mark Morris also brought up the prospect of furloughs for next year's budget, having one or two days a month where a county service would shut down to lower operating costs. Fitch said the only way the county would be able to do furloughs is with the 40 non-union employees, and that the county would have to re-negotiate with unions to implement them for all county employees. Fitch also said it would not be practical because of mandated positions.
"I know it is a lot of pain, but that is what I would do as an alternative," Morris said. "We can't hit the local economy with a big tax increase like this. We have to have the intestinal will to stand up and say we want it."
County Administrator and Budget Officer Sarah Purdy said the tentative budget has to be approved by Friday, Dec. 7, so the legislature agreed to meet again Thursday, Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. to consider the additional cuts.