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Albany County — The Altamont Enterprise, December 1, 2011

McCoy: “We’re going to downsize”
Dems plan to scale back after a packed budget hearing

By Anne Hayden

ALBANY COUNTY — Democrats, who hold the vast majority in the Albany County Legislature, say they are chipping away at the 19.2-percent tax increase that came with the $606 million budget proposed by the outgoing county executive.

The newly elected executive, Daniel McCoy, offered bravado but no specifics after a record number of citizens turned out Tuesday night for a public hearing on the budget.

“We have to think outside the box. It’s time to rip the tree out of the ground, shake the roots off, and re-plant it,” said McCoy on Wednesday. He said he would treat Albany like a business.

“We’re going to downsize, merge some departments, and basically just do a great job for less,” McCoy said.

Michael Breslin, who did not run for re-election, originally proposed a tax levy increase of 19.2 percent, far over Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2-percent tax levy cap for 2012. However, if 60 percent of legislators vote in favor, the cap can be overridden. The current tax rate is roughly four dollars per $1,000 of assessed value.

The representatives must vote on a budget on Dec. 5.

The Democrat representing Westmere who recently won re-election, Bryan Clenahan, gave a more measured response yesterday.

“I’m not supporting a 19-percent tax increase or anything even close to it,” he said. Clenahan said he thinks the county should be able to reduce the budget dramatically, while still maintaining services.

“I think it’s very important to maintain the nursing home,” Clenahan said. He hopes that the county will look toward changes in management to run the nursing home more efficiently.

Clenahan said that, after the most recent meeting with the Audit and Finance Committee, the proposed budget’s tax-levy increase had actually gone down from 19.2 percent to 14 percent, as a result of a decision to leave some vacant county jobs unfilled for 2012, and getting higher than anticipated sales tax revenues in the third quarter.

“Fourteen percent is still way too high, but we are headed in the right direction,” Clenahan said. The Democratic caucus will meet again tonight to go over the numbers.

“I don’t think anyone disagrees that the tax burden is harmful,” Clenahan concluded. “We need to do all we can to minimize it as much as possible.”

Many speakers at the hearing advocated for keeping the Albany County nursing home and the county’s pediatric dental program up and running, as well as providing funding for the county’s sheriff department.

Others asked the county government to do whatever it takes to avoid raising taxes at all.

Richard Mendick, a Republican representing District 36, in Bethlehem and part of New Scotland, said he flat out would not vote for a budget that went over the 2-percent cap.

“We are elected officials, and the public has said through its vote for the governor, they want their taxes reduced,” said Mendick. “The governor has set a ceiling, and I believe we have a responsibility to meet that.”

The public came out in record numbers on Tuesday, Mendick said, and indicated that neither the county nor the taxpayers can afford all of the things they once had.

If the legislators vote and the tax cap is not surpassed, the county will have to go back and look at cutting programs that are not mandated by the state, said Mendick.

“There just isn’t going to be enough money to go around,” he concluded.

Alexander Gordon, a Democrat representing District 39, in the Hilltowns, said on Wednesday he was in a “quandary” over which way to vote. He was defeated in November by Republican Deborah Busch who ran on a platform of keeping taxes in check.

“The will of the people is to stick to the 2-percent tax cap, but I have a record of caring about people, and I don’t see going forward with the 2-percent cap if we are hurting people in every sector of our population,” Gordon said. The thing that will persuade him the most, in terms of his vote, is the responsibility to protect the weak in the community, specifically children and the elderly, he said.

Gordon, a farmer, lives in Knox, and said, due to the economy, he is hanging on by a thread himself.

“I know exactly what this tax increase would translate to in dollars and cents, for me, but I’m still not going to be one of the people who puts other people out on the street,” he said.

Although Gordon does not think it is feasible to get the tax levy increase below 2-percent, he does think there are ways to get it lower than the proposed 19-percent increase.

His suggestions include declaring the county’s ice-hockey facility as surplus property and selling it; selling the Ann Lee Home, a former nursing home that now stands vacant and Gordon thinks is in a desirable real estate location; ceasing to rent unnecessary space for committees such as the board of elections; and changing the management team at the county’s nursing home.

“I think those actions could drop the tax levy increase by an extra 4 or 5 percent,” said Gordon.

Busch will take over representing a newly configured District 39 on Jan. 1. She spoke at the public hearing, saying she thought the legislators needed to stick to the 2-percent cap. The cap, she said, was the reason voters elected Governor Cuomo. She called the proposals for layoffs and service reductions “threats” by the county government.

“I think she needs to familiarize herself with the role of the social safety net,” said Gordon, in response to Busch’s comments. “You just can’t expect to have the same level of services if you reduce the revenue to run them. It just doesn’t happen.”  

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