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Franklin County officials starting to prepare tough 2021 budget

MALONE — Franklin County is only six months into it 2020 budget, but county officials have already begun preliminary work on the 2021 spending plan — a budget they predict will be extremely tight and filled with uncertainties.

County Manager Donna Kissane said she plans to take a magnifying glass to the budget for next year in anticipation of decreased revenues because of the COVID-19 pandemic that is wreaking havoc on the economy not just locally, but nationwide. Sales and occupancy tax revenues have fallen sharply already this year and the state is proposing cuts in aid of up to 20% as its struggles to address a projected shortfall over the next four years that could reach $61 billion.

The upcoming budget will be “very, very tight,” Kissane told county legislators during a work session Thursday morning. There will be “a lot of budget lines to review.”

Kissane noted that the state is already withholding some payments for social services programs and suggested counties should band together to withhold payments to the state for their shares of Medicaid costs. The cuts in state support, coupled with the revenue shortfalls and the demands Medicaid places on local budgets is creating a significant cash flow issue, she said.

As part of her preparations for the upcoming budget, Kissane said she will require all department heads — both elected and appointed — to meet with her personally to talk about their needs for the upcoming fiscal year. County Attorney Jonathan Miller noted that some department heads had complained that they had not been heard when the county’s current $105 million budget was drawn up, although Kissane said some of those who complained had simply handed in their spending wish list and had not attended meetings scheduled to discuss the budget.

Kissane said she will begin blocking out time to meet with the department heads soon so there will be plenty of time for her and the department heads to synchronize their schedules.

The first draft of the county budget is typically released in early October.

Legislator Andrea Dumas, R-Malone, proposed the Legislature draw up a letter to be sent to all department heads supporting Kissane’s call for face-to-face meetings to reinforce her authority.

Any department head who fails to meet with Kissane should be asked to sign a document acknowledging they had done so, some legislators suggested.

Although he was not mentioned by name, several of the comments at Thursday’s work session appeared to reference Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill, who had complained last year that cuts to his budget — which resulted in the elimination of two deputy positions — were made without any input from him. Legislators at the time argued that Mulverhill failed to attend multiple meetings at which the cuts were discussed.

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