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Chairman’s Corner: Columbia County’s 2019 budget

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December 5, 2018 11:33 am Updated: December 5, 2018 11:44 am

 

An increased commitment to education, continuing the shared services initiative, and continuing the development of the new emergency services training center for volunteer firemen and emergency service workers are some of the highlights of the proposed 2019 Columbia County budget.

In addition, and in partnership with Greene County, we continue to pursue the goals of our comprehensive plan to address the opioid epidemic by hiring a coordinator and working to provide increased public awareness.

Further, all county school districts will now have a sheriff’s department resource officer.

This budget designates $2.5 million for roads and bridges, $2 million toward Columbia-Greene Community College, and $1.25 million for the emergency services training center.

The proposed budget also includes negotiated salary increases for the four unions representing county employees, with no reduction in the work force or cutbacks in services or the quality of services.

The county’s largest expenditure? Health insurance, which costs in excess of $10 million. Fortunately, steps taken in recent years have made a significant difference in helping to relieve some of the crushing costs imposed by health insurance.

As I outlined in my recent column about the county audit, this budget continues the commitment to the goal of a $10 million general fund cash balance. A healthy fund balance is critical to good financial management throughout the ebb and flow of the budget year.

On the revenue side, sales and mortgage taxes numbers remain strong.

As to cost-saving measures, the county has implemented over the past few years the Countywide Shared Services Property Tax Savings Plan, which makes use of intermunicipal agreements between the county and its towns in a number of areas. These include sharing Management Information Services, which offers website design, database management, and other information technology services;

sharing Real Property tax services; sharing Human Resources training; and providing less expensive paper and office supplies. We are always on the lookout for new cost-saving opportunities.

What does all this mean to county taxpayers?

With a 1.7 percent proposed levy tax increase, the 2019 county budget again comes in below the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap. (Over the past seven years, the total annual tax increase has averaged 1 percent.)

Because of the $88 million increase in taxable properties in the county, most county taxpayers should find that the 1.7 percent increase will not cause a raise in their tax bill.

I would like to thank county treasurer P.J. Keeler and county controller Ron Caponera for their assistance with preparing the budget, as well as for their day-to-day management of county finances.

Also deserving of thanks for their assistance are town supervisor/deputy chairman Ronald Knott, town supervisor/deputy chairman/finance committee chair Richard Keaveney, supervisors Sarah Sterling and Patrick Grattan, and human resources director Michaele Williams-Riordan.

The final vote on the 2019 budget — with a public hearing scheduled to precede the meeting — is set for the Dec. 12 Board of Supervisors’ meeting.

Reach Matt Murell at matt.murell@columbiacountyny.com.