Poughkeepsie… Hundreds of people participated in Thursday’s Dutchess County Legislature’s Public Hearing on the 2010 budget and advocated additional county spending for community agencies, Sheriff road patrols, school resource officers and restoration of eliminated county positions. Additionally, Legislative Chairman Roger Higgins has publicly stated the Democrat Majority will not support the proposed Solid Waste User Fee for the county’s legal obligation to fund solid waste disposal costs. Therefore an additional $6.4 million in appropriations will need to be added to the 2010 county budget. The total impact of additional spending for 2010 would total over $15 million dollars in higher spending and would equate to an increase in the property tax rate of nearly 22% and a 16% increase to the county property tax levy.
The Executive budget proposal provides over $17.5 million to non-profit community partners for an array of programs and services, with those community agencies represented at the public hearing last night currently budgeted to receive $5.3 million in 2010. The Executive budget also includes a proposal for the Solid Waste User Fee which will ensure greater fairness among solid waste users because all properties that generate waste would now share in the county cost of solid waste disposal, not just properties subject to county property tax. Additionally, there is a proposal in the Executive Budget for Sheriff road patrol services and school resource officers to be provided through an optional “purchase of service” program with localities and school districts that opt to participate through inter-municipal agreements.
In an Albany meeting Friday with Governor Paterson, 14 county executives including Dutchess County Executive William R. Steinhaus were told by the Governor many politicians are in denial about the seriousness of the financial problem and tough decisions to cut spending have to be made. County Executive Steinhaus said, “The day of reckoning is now – not next month or next year. If spending and property taxes are not controlled, local governments and the state are on a path over a financial and economic cliff. Our local Dutchess County Legislators must not cave in to spending every last nickel in taxpayers’ pockets.”
“County legislators must now make the final choice either to focus on satisfying requests for more spending from special interest groups and raise county property taxes nearly 22% to fund all of these programs, or they can choose to control spending to keep property taxes flat,” said County Executive Steinhaus. “These decisions are difficult, the choices are not easy. I have put forth proposals to curtail spending and hold the line to protect homeowners and over stressed businesses from higher property taxes. Now the Legislature must decide, on behalf of county property taxpayers, whether they support these proposals.”
According to Budget Director Valerie Sommerville, declining revenues, state mandated and non-discretionary spending requirements and the continuing damage of the overall economic downturn all contributed to an unprecedented initial budget gap of $50 million. As state mandated costs continue to rise, county governments have been forced to cut important discretionary programs in order to balance budgets. For 2010, State mandated payments will increase by more than $6 million. County officials have no discretion with any of these state mandated programs or the imposed costs. “Sadly, every new dollar county government must spend on state mandates is a dollar that has to be cut from other important services residents receive,” said County Executive Steinhaus.
“Last year, the Democrat Majority adopted a budget that raised county property taxes an unprecedented 11% to respond to special interest demands,” said County Executive Steinhaus. “County property taxpayers simply cannot afford a 22% tax increase again this year.”