MALONE - The Franklin County Board of Legislators unanimously passed the county's 2009 budget Thursday afternoon.
The county's total property tax levy will stay at $11,405,109, the same as it was this year.
Due to a 2.8 percent increase in the county's overall assessed property value, the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value will fall 2.7 percent, from $3.23 to $3.15. At this rate, the owner of a $100,000 property will pay $314.52 in county property taxes in 2009, as opposed to $323.26 in 2008 - but that $100,000 property this year might be assessed higher in 2009.
The county's total budgeted spending will increase 2.5 percent, from $104.8 million to $107.3 million.
"If anybody tells anybody what is going to happen with the state (budget), they don't know what they're talking about," said county Legislator Paul Maroun of Tupper Lake. "But it's not going to be easy. What we've got here is a budget put together based on the information we have."
Maroun said the counties should do more to pressure the state not to pass costs on in the form of unfunded mandates, even suing if necessary.
"If the taxpayers of Franklin County are not in control of this mandate, then the taxpayers of Franklin County should not have to pay the bill," he said.
County Manager James Feeley said last month that most of the spending increase is due to higher energy costs and contractually required wage increases for members of the United Public Services Employees' Union who work for the county. The wage increase is 3.5 percent, Feeley said, but due to longevity increases, the total increase came to 4.87 percent.
The board also voted to refund the county's towns and villages $304,314.34 to cover the cost of the Nov. 4 elections. The entire board voted "aye" except for county board Chairman Guy "Tim" Smith of Fort Covington, who voted "nay."
"There could be other ways of doing it," Smith said after the meeting. "And I think the county could help out a little more."
Currently, the towns and villages are compensated according to their assessed value, not according to the number of voters in the district, which Smith thinks would be more sensible.
Although the budget was adopted as is, Feeley said it was drafted with certain assumptions about revenue that may not bear out, given the severe cuts in state aid that may be forthcoming.
Feeley presented legislators with a list of 23 areas where, he thought, money could be saved. His first proposal was to review the county's contracts and only pay by the quarter so the county can withhold payments if it thinks it should.
County Legislator Tim Burpoe of Saranac Lake suggested tightening up collection of money owed to the county as well.
"There have been a couple notorious contract agencies that have been regularly delinquent in paying us," he said.
Feeley also said the county needs to cut spending on office supplies; one of his suggestions was no new copiers or fax machines.
"If someone has a catastrophic accident (with theirs), they'll have to buddy up and go down the hall," he said.
Feeley also said the county should save money on paper by using both sides of the page when making copies and by using e-mail for all internal memorandums.
"It sounds trite and it sounds trivial, but it will add up," he said.
Feeley also said Medicaid and Welfare-to-Work recipients should be encouraged to use public transportation instead of driving at the county's expense. Another suggestion was to set the heat in county buildings at 67 and keep it there.
Feeley also said all unfilled positions should be left unfilled for at least eight weeks before the supervisor can request to fill them.
Feeley said the county may have to consider reopening and renegotiating union contracts.
However, the county may end up saving money on fuel, as more was budgeted than may be required. For example, the state contract price of gasoline is $2.09 a gallon now, 43 percent lower than it was in June, and fuel oil is $2.11 a gallon, 48 percent less, according to county Legislator Dan Crippen of Burke.
And Franklin County has not yet had to make the same drastic cuts as some places. For example, Erie County eliminated its cooperative extension program, and Lewis County will be losing 23 jobs.
Contact Nathan Brown at (518) 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.