County approves budget

FONDA – At its last meeting before a new Montgomery County legislature and a county executive take over, the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a 2014 budget with a 3.5 percent tax-levy decrease.

Next year’s $101.2 million budget increased by $3.4 million over this year’s, county Treasurer Shawn Bowerman said.

Some of the major spending increases include a $200,000 increase in funding for the Sheriff’s Department and jail, a $600,000 increase for the Social Services Department; and a $300,000 increase in county road funding. The new budget also includes funding for the new county executive’s budget.

“A lot of it is just the cost of doing business increased, and others are because of new positions and upgraded positions,” Bowerman said.

The budget has a $26.5 million tax levy, a decrease of a little more than 3 percent compared to the 2013 budget.

Bowerman said tentative tax rates vary in the 2014 budget.

He said the city of Amsterdam is going to have a 7.5 percent tax-rate decrease, the largest tax decrease in the county, while Glen will have a 3.5 percent tax-rate increase, the largest increase in the county.

“All of the other municipality tax rates fall between those numbers,” Bowerman said.

The budget appropriated about $4 million from the fund balance.

The budget became controversial among board members when the use of fund balance increased by an additional $1.6 million in early December. The preliminary budget called for a 2 percent tax-levy increase and the appropriation of $2.3 million of the $7.4 million unappropriated balance.

At Tuesday’s meeting, before passing the budget, one more amendment using the fund balance was made by Amsterdam Town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza.

DiMezza proposed an increase of the appropriated fund balance by an additional $1,500 for the county executive’s dues for the New York State County Executive Association. The board approved the spending.

DiMezza, along with Minden Supervisor Thomas Quackenbush, city of Amsterdam 1st Ward Supervisor Vito Greco and 2nd Ward Supervisor Jeffrey Stark, voted against the budget.

“We were criticized because we were told as a board we weren’t doing our job as far as the budgets,” Greco said. “I don’t think this is a realistic budget; I won’t vote for it. I believe that there were items in here to pacify individuals and I’m sorry, I just can’t do it. I just don’t think it’s realistic.”

Before voting on the budget, Stark proposed another amendment to reduce the use of the fund balance by $1 million, but Stark, Greco, Quackenbush and DiMezza were the only supervisors in favor of the amendment, so it did not pass.

St. Johnsville Supervisor Dominick Stagliano argued there is a difference between appropriating the fund balance and using the fund balance in the county. He said the county appropriates more than it uses.

“Don’t be afraid of appropriating $1.5 million, because in all likelihood, it’s not going to cost you a penny,” Stagliano told Greco.

At the end of the meeting, Florida Town Supervisor William Strevy thanked Root Supervisor John Thayer for his service as chairman of the board.

Thayer thanked the board and said it was “fulfilling” to follow as chairman after Shayne T. Walters, who died during his chairmanship in October 2012.

“I thought [Walters] was an upstanding person,” Thayer said. “He tried to do his best. He may not have been the most polished, he may not have been the best educated, but he always thought he was doing his best and what was best for Montgomery County. So, for me to follow him has been an honor. I thank you all for everything we’ve gone through the last six years that I’ve known most of you.”

After Tuesday’s meeting, Stagliano said he was proud of the work he did on the board.

“I have no qualms,” Stagliano said. “Every day that I got up and looked in the mirror, I was happy with what I saw. If you know you did your best, then what more can you ask for? We did a lot of good things. The problem was we didn’t get the acknowledgment, but it’ll show.”

Greco said he thinks the new legislature coming in January will do a great job.

“I think the [legislature] is great and I think every supervisor that’s on this exiting board has offered their assistance if they need it,” Greco said. “I wish them the best of luck, and I think they’ll do a tremendous job. The county needs a change; get rid of us old-timers, get some new blood in.”

Thayer agreed the legislature will do fine once the new government begins in 2014.

“I think that the budget we passed tonight is very workable,” Thayer said. “I would’ve worked with it myself under a supervisor position, so I don’t foresee that they’ll have any problems. They’re going to have the same problems that we’ve had as a board of supervisors in the past years, so they’ll be fine.”