$7M surplus won’t be enough to close budget gap, consultant says
KINGSTON >> Ulster County probably will end the year with a $7 million budget surplus but will need more than double that amount to balance County Executive Michael Hein’s proposed 2017 million budget, a consultant says.
Nick DeSantis, of the Westchester County consulting firm O’Connor Davies, found little to criticize in the $325 million spending plan for the coming year, but he cautioned lawmakers about its reliance on the county’s surplus fund balance.
Hein has proposed drawing $15.3 million from the county fund balance to balance his 2017 budget proposal.
“You have wisely in your budgets used mon-
ies that you have preserved from the past,” DeSantis said. But, he added, continued reliance on that money, without replenishment, could present fiscal difficulties in future years.
The proposed budget developed by Hein calls for spending to decrease by $5 million from the current $330 million budget and for the amount to be generated by property by taxes to drop by 0.25 percent, to $76.9 million.
The consulting firm said that, overall, it concurs with budgetary projections in the Hein plan and told county lawmakers on Thursday that they can “feel comfortable in the integrity” of the spending plan.
Still, the firm offered a few tweaks that it said could save the county about $490,000.
Chris Kopf, a partner with O’Connor Davies, said the firm recommends a $100,000 decrease in anticipated sales tax revenue for the coming year,but also suggests county legislators increase projected revenue from interest and penalties on property taxes by an equal amount.
The firm also recommended the county increase its expected overtime costs by $136,000 and that it reduce spending for the Temporary Assistance to Families welfare program by $160,000.
DeSantis said that, in the past year, the county has seen a decrease in the county caseload that is likely to continue in the coming year. He said the firm saw a similar downward trend in the caseload of the Safety Net program but that because the county bears a significantly higher portion of the cost of that program, the firm did not recommend any changes to the $10.2 million budgeted by Hein.
Kopf and DeSantis said if the county Legislature adopts their recommendations, it should place the funds in the county’s contingency account to protect against unanticipated expenses.
The Legislature will hold three public hearings on Hein’s budget proposal beginning next week. Once the hearings are completed, the body’s Ways and Means Committee will begin an in-depth review of the spending plan.
The full Legislature is expected to adopt a 2017 budget on Dec. 7.