MALONE - The Franklin County budget looks like it might be a little more manageable this year than it was last year.
The budget is starting out around a 20-percent increase, "which is a whole lot better than where we were at this point last year," county Manager Tom Leitz told legislators at a Thursday budget workshop.
The rough first draft of the budget presented to legislators Thursday includes a $2.98 million increase in spending, from $114.7 million to $117.69 million.
Leitz created a budget mostly from department heads' wish lists that started out with about a $7.5 million increase in spending, which came out to about a 50 percent increase of the tax levy, but he said he easily found ways to cut it down to where it is now. He said he plans to give his version of their budget to them and let department heads argue for or against changes he has made.
Leitz said he plans to meet with legislators weekly to whittle down the budget. He said he wants to work on it with groups of department heads present - like those that fall under the public safety umbrella such as probation, the district attorney's office and the jail - so department heads have an idea of what kind of sacrifices the others are making.
One of the things Leitz said he wants to discuss during the budget process is the county's department structure. He noted that many other counties have their office for the aging under another department, like social services, and real property and the county treasury are often combined into one department.
Leitz said he's not entirely sure that combining departments would create an immediate savings, but it could offer opportunities for employees to be trained across agencies so they can fill in gaps where there are needs. It could also let some positions be lost to attrition because there would be no one to take up that position's duties.
He said he is increasingly thinking of the county's administrative staff as people who work for the county, not people who work for one specific agency or another.
"I think that's the only way we can afford to fill these shortfalls," Leitz said.
The budget may include raises for some managers. Legislator Marc "Tim" Lashomb, R-Malone, said the county has to make sure not to let employees start making more money than their managers, because that creates less incentive for them to work hard for a promotion and can demoralize managers.
Legislator Guy "Tim" Smith, D-Fort Covington, brought up the touchy question of whether the board should pass an override to the state's 2-percent tax cap, which he called a "safety latch." Last year, the board held a hearing on the cap, then rejected it after they cut the budget below what officials expected their cap to be.
Other legislators said Thursday they weren't at the point where they should be discussing that yet, though.
"That's down the road," said Legislator David "Billy" Jones, D-Chateaugay.
Leitz and county Treasurer Bryon Varin noted that they haven't calculated the county's cap yet, because the state is still up in the air on how some factors come into the equation, like payments-in-lieu-of-taxes and election chargebacks to towns.