SARANAC LAKE - It's not as bad as last year.
This time last year, Franklin County legislators were looking at laying off 15 employees, and even with that, they still had a 13 percent tax levy increase to reduce before they adopted their final budget.
This year, as county Manager Tom Leitz filed the county's tentative 2013 budget Friday, he said the preliminary spending plan wouldn't require any layoffs and features a 5.57 percent increase to the tax levy.
The 10 layoffs the county ended up with last year, in addition to some other positions eliminated over the year through reorganization, mean the county has to spend less on benefits like retirement and health insurance.
"The sort of choices that were necessary last year have carried forward into a recurring savings in the future," Leitz told the Enterprise in a phone interview Friday morning before unveiling the budget in Malone.
Leitz is estimating the county will have to meet a state-imposed tax cap of just a little higher than 2 percent by the time it adopts the 2013 budget in December.
"So it's going to be difficult, but compared to last year, we're at a better place for sure," Leitz said. "We still have ideas to reduce the levy further; it's just going to take some time to flesh them out into concrete proposals. I'm not certain the county can reach the cap, but I'm certain we can reduce from where we are."
The budget includes an agreement with the county's biggest union, which represents about 350 of its employees, that reduces the county's costs in terms of fringe benefits but includes raises for employees. The union has signed a memorandum of agreement but hasn't ratified it yet. Leitz said he has every reason to believe the agreement will be finalized.
"We're incorporating the savings from that into the budget, as well as the employee raises that go with it," Leitz said. "If that doesn't come to fruition, then the budget numbers change pretty significantly, and we've got a lot of work to do."
Total spending in the proposed 2013 budget would be about $99.7 million, a decrease of $12.8 million, or about 11.4 percent, from the current spending year.
Revenues would also decrease dramatically in the proposed budget. They would drop $14.1 million, or by about 14.6 percent, to $82.3 million.
That's partly because of an anticipated loss of casino compact funds. Native Americans who run the casino on the Akwasasne Mohawk reservation, which rests partly in Franklin County, believe exclusivity agreements have been violated due to another tribe opening a gaming operation near Plattsburgh. Therefore, they don't feel they need to give Franklin County the $3 million revenue share they have in past years. The county splits that amount with the towns of Fort Covington and Bombay.
In addition to that loss, county officials expect to see significant reductions in state and federal aid. They are cutting spending in a number of areas, but that means state and federal money given as a match to county funds won't come through, either.
One area where the county will see a big savings is an estimated $1.5 million saved through the elimination of the One Work Source facility it used to operate. The county rented space and provided services to the unemployed and underemployed, but the county pulled out of that space, moved a few of the employees from there to the county courthouse building and folded them into the county's Department of Social Services.
That was one of several reorganizational efforts the county has worked on for much of 2012. Leitz said he, department heads and legislators kept in mind that they needed to find ways to cut spending throughout the entire year, not just during budget season.
"We knew we had a challenge for the 2013 budget, so we focused on it the first nine months of the year," Leitz said.
Unlike in other recent years, the 2013 budget, as proposed, would include investment in a a few areas.
The Highway Department would have about $60,000 to spend more money on blacktopping county roads, which the highway superintendent has said have been neglected for far too long. The budget also includes money for the department to replace a piece of heavy machinery from the 1960s.
The Office of the Aging would also see a boost if the budget is passed as is. The office helps seniors who want to keep living at home alone with things like bathing, cleaning and shopping. There's a waiting list for those programs now, but the proposed 2013 budget would include about $75,000 to give those services to all the seniors who want them, eliminating the waiting list.
There is also a boost in spending for the Department of Social Services' preventative programs. The idea behind that is to save money over time on programs that help people who may be able to be helped before there is a problem.
"We'll be tracking the impact of this over the long term," Leitz said.
The budget doesn't include any new surcharges or fees on county residents, and there are no plans to look at those options yet, Leitz said.
Leitz said he would try to get budget information on the county's website, www.franklincony.org, by the end of the day Friday, but if not, he said it would definitely be there by the end of Monday.
The county will likely hold hearings on the budget in November. The final budget will need to be adopted in December.
Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.