CATSKILL — Residents gathered at Catskill High School on Monday night to offer feedback on the proposed county budget for 2020.
The tentative budget shows an increase from $119 million in 2019 to $121.7 million. The tax rate increase is 1.7%, with eight of the 14 towns experiencing tax rate reductions, according to the budget proposal. The Legislature will vote on the budget Nov. 20.
Monday’s public hearing in the high school auditorium began with a presentation from Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden.
The increase in the budget is due to a variety of factors such as the debt service for the jail, increased personnel associated with Raise the Age legislation, bail reform and evidentiary discovery changes, Groden said.
For example, the county is estimating these new laws will require one additional full-time employee for the probation department, one full-time employee in emergency services to help with the discovery process, two full-time employees in the district attorney’s office, one full-time employee with the department of social services and one full-time employee in the department of motor vehicles, Groden said.
Catskill resident Joseph Izzo asked if the state will reimburse the county for the additional personnel the mandates require.
Additional staff needed for the public defender’s office will be funded through grants from Indigent Legal Services, Groden said, but other than that, the state is not providing funding.
Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said lawmakers will consult with state representatives on the matter.
On the revenue side of things, sales tax is looking up, Groden said.
“We are anticipating sales tax to increase by $1 million, bringing it to $32 million even,” he said.
This is the eighth year the county budget has remained within the state tax cap, Groden said. The tax cap is set at 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
The board then opened up the floor to members of the public who wished to comment on the budget.
Robert Janiszewski, of Tannersville, addressed the board about the economic decline in the area.
“We need a jail,” he said. “I’m not here to argue that. But we have many, many other issues that impact this county and its people. We are losing young people. We have had a change in job types from higher-paying manufacturing jobs to food service and retail jobs. Our poverty rate is higher than our neighbors.”
Janiszewski compared poverty rates between Columbia and Greene counties from a recent study published in The Daily Mail, which showed that Greene is 43rd in the state and Columbia ranks eighth.
“With all these challenges, the economic opportunity for someone nearby to work at home is not present,” Janiszewski said. “We need broadband and cell tower expansion. We need to be attractive to more than just tourism.”
Janiszewski finds the debt service worrisome, he said.
“For a large project with record-setting debt service, all the resources we can muster will get drawn into that instead of what our communities need,” he said.
The $39 million bond will be paid off over a 30-year period at 2.49% interest.
Izzo alluded to Janiszewski’s comments when he had the floor, although he did not mention him by name.
“Anyone who thinks Columbia County is the greatest thing since white bread can move to Columbia County,” Izzo said.
Diana Abadie, of Athens, suggested more funds be invested in suicide and opioid prevention/recovery resources.
Prattsville Town Councilman Greg Cross addressed the board on the topic of adding a new flycar on the mountain. A flycar is a paramedic vehicle that preps patients for transport prior to the arrival of an ambulance.
“A life protected in Prattsville is the same as a life saved in New Baltimore, Durham, Coxsackie or any town,” Cross said. “I know it’s a big expense but with some conservative minds and I think Mr. Bulich, you have one, I think it is a vital service. I commend you for your conservative approach.”
Greene County Emergency Services Board of Directors President Mark Evans estimated the flycar would cost $403,000 per year, he said in March. The additional vehicle would increase the county’s annual commitment to EMS from $1,244,000 to $1,647,000, Evans said.
Catskill resident Elton Vandermark strongly disagreed with the county footing the bill for the flycar, he said.
“The people in the village of Catskill have got to stop paying for everybody else,” he said. “If the people on the mountaintop want the service, pay your share.”
Catskill has its own Advanced Life Support ambulance service. The budget for the service was $1.8 million for 2019.
Vandermark also criticized the expense of the jail.
“We don’t need that jail,” he said. “You’re putting our children and grandchildren in debt for the next 30 years. After it’s built it will be a ghost and dust collection.”
Vandermark added that he planned on moving out of Greene County.