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Audit uncovers a $2.5M shortfall; Officials point fingers

    SCHUYLER COUNTY—The Schuyler County Legislature heard from an audit report that the 2010 budget had $2.5 million less in the reserve fund than the county expected to have.
    Legislative Chairman Dennis Fagan explained the county found out about this at the Wednesday, Aug. 3, legislative resolution review committee. Last year the county expected the available funds to increase by $1 million, instead there was a $2.5 million gap. After the Monday, Aug. 8, legislature meeting, Fagan said it took until the audit to find out about the fund gap because the legislature “is getting erroneous data from the treasurer’s department.” He added there were about four factors that contributed to the gap, including a $400,000 drop in sales tax revenue last year.
    Fagan confirmed the audit review cited the treasurer’s department for concerns, which he said included, “the grant numbers we’ve received have been overstated.” He added previous audit concerns about the treasurer’s department “have not been rectified.” When asked about the deficit by reporters after the Monday, Aug. 8 meeting, County Administrator Tim O’Hearn said to speak to Fagan.
    Treasurer Peggy Starbuck was not at the Monday meeting, but submitted a letter last Thursday concerning the situation (see page five). She said the $2.5 million deficit was caused by the self-funded health insurance program, “which due to unforeseen catastrophic illness to a few employees and/or their families, was under budgeted by $3 million.” She added the county administrator and legislature is responsible for developing the budget.
    To make up that $2.5 million gap, Fagan said the county will have to cut things people don’t want to see cut. He gave road patrols, highway maintenance, and veterans benefits as possible examples. He added that making the cuts will be difficult because of the state mandated programs and the two percent tax cap. Fagan added the county has also been using $750,000 from the fund balance to offset the property tax increases.
    “We’re not able to use that level of funding,” he added about future budgets.
    O’Hearn said the audit would be posted on the county’s Web site by the end of the week.
    In other business:
    • The legislature approved a $48,840 bid from John H. Cook Jr. to paint the courthouse cupola, as recommended by the building maintenance supervisor. A bid from Crest Painting and Historic Renovation was rejected.
    • Fagan said Schuyler County was asked to meet with other counties in the Susquehanna River Basin concerning the Environmental Protection Agency’s water treatment regulations. Fagan said the current regulations could cost each county between $2 billion and $4 billion.
    • O’Hearn said the one year anniversary of Schuyler County Transit is this month. He explained there will be a buy one pass, get one free deal Aug. 16, as well as special trips into Watkins Glen available from several remote Schuyler County locations later in the month.
    • Legislator Phil Barnes said the probation department is reporting the alternatives to incarceration have saved the county $253,000. He added it has saved the state $616,000.
    • A household hazardous waste collection and used electronics recycling day will be held Sept. 24, at the Schuyler County Shared Services Building.


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