Poughkeepsie… As Dutchess County Executive William R. Steinhaus and staff work out the decisions and details relating to the County Executive’s 2011 Budget proposal, which is due to the County Legislature by November 1st, there are lessons to be learned both from choices made and decisions delayed over the past two budget years.
One of the most notable inactions over the past two years was the refusal by union leadership and the County Legislature to support County Executive Steinhaus’ 2008 proposal to freeze annual cost of living salary increases beginning with the 2009 budget year. “Since county unions and the County Legislature chose not to support my proposal to enter talks with the unions in the fall of 2008, $13 million will have been unnecessarily spent in raises for county employees, putting county finances further in the hole. That 2008 shortsighted view and denial of the depth of the national recession has now regrettably forced even more difficult staffing decisions.”
A Poughkeepsie Journal editorial published on 11/16/08 warned of the consequences of ignoring County Executive Steinhaus proposal, stating “…unions should realize the gravity of the situation and anticipate that more job cuts will be made unless county government can right its fiscal ship.”
In 2009, the annual COLA increase for county employees added $3.4 million in new higher spending to the county budget. Compounded over three years, the salary increase in 2009 adds a total expense to overburdened taxpayers of more than $13.1 million by 2011.
“When tough decisions are pushed off or avoided, financial problems simply compound and get worse,” said County Executive Steinhaus. “Everyone knew we were in a recession two years ago. If county legislators had the political will to support my proposal to freeze salary increases, even though the decision was not a popular one with their union supporters, we would be facing a smaller gap as we work to balance the county budget for 2011.”
For 2011, County Executive Steinhaus has announced his budget proposal will include bold reform of county government, including eliminating up to six department head positions as well as substantial realignment and downsizing that will result in fewer services and programs in order to close an initial $40 million budget gap.
This is not the first time County Executive Steinhaus has made difficult choices in his budget proposals. Some of these proposals had been decried as “drastic” or “draconian”, yet similar proposals are now being included in county budget proposals being presented across New York State.
Legislators’ choice to not support some of these tough decisions has cost taxpayers millions and has led to double digit property tax increases adopted by the County Legislature two years in a row. The following are a few examples of costly inaction:
- 2009 -
County Executive’s 2009 Budget Proposal:
Two years ago, in his 2009 Budget Message to legislators, County Executive Steinhaus sought to reduce spending, reduce the property tax levy and freeze the county tax rate. He acknowledged in his budget that “… this cannot be accomplished, of course, without making many tough decisions...” (The full 2009 budget message can be found on the county website at:
His 2009 budget included the following proposals:
- Further realign and prioritize staff resources with the elimination of 43 positions including unfortunately nine occupied positions.
- Eliminate the annual COLA or cost of living salary increases for county employees.
County Legislature’s 2009 Adopted Budget:
The Democratic controlled County Legislature at the time was unwilling to even consider approaching union officials to freeze salaries and raises and adopt the 2009 County Budget. Instead legislators adopted:
- Full salary increases for union employees.
- Refused the appropriate rightsizing of county government to meet fiscal realities.
- Increased spending, resulting in an 11% property taxes increase, to fund union raises and restore positions.
- 2010 -
County Executive’s 2010 Budget Proposal:
In his 2010 budget proposal, County Executive Steinhaus proposed to freeze the property tax levy and reduce spending. To accomplish this, County Executive Steinhaus again discussed the tough decisions that would be needed to be made in his 2010 Budget Message (The full 2010 budget message can be found on the county website at: http://www.co.dutchess.ny.us/CountyGov/Departments/CountyExecutive/17362.htm)
His 2010 budget included the following proposals:
- Across the board funding reductions to contracted agencies
- Reduction in county workforce by 56 positions, including 25 layoffs, spread broadly across multiple departments
County Legislature’s 2010 Adopted Budget:
Again the County Legislature was unwilling to make the tough decisions necessary to keep property taxes down, instead choosing to:
- Increase appropriations with more than $2 million in unsustainable additional funding to community agencies
- Restoration of numerous county positions.
- Legislators voted to adopt a 11.6% property tax increase
- Adopted millions in revenue to justify increased spending, but then refused to take the necessary legislative action to implement the revenue, creating a structural imbalance in the 2010 budget with a multi-million dollar gap impacting both 2010 and 2011.
“The choices are not getting easier as the economy remains stagnant and the tough budget decisions not made in past years compound the budget stress now,” said County Executive Steinhaus.
If the Legislature and the county government unions had agreed to a salary freeze two years ago, positions that by necessity will be proposed for elimination in 2011 as well as the service cuts that must accompany the elimination of people could have been avoided, or at least minimized. “This ill advised decision to insist on raises has compounding consequences. Just this week we are hearing the call for more money to be spent on more county services. Union leaders and legislators have failed to recognize $13 million in salary increases they supported took money that could have been used for those important community services. Again, this decision two years ago to provide salary increases in a deep recession will cost taxpayers more then $13 million by next year,” concluded County Executive Steinhaus.
"The property taxpayers clearly expressed their disappointment with the poor budget decisions made by the previous County Legislature, bounced the Democrat Majority out, and voted many new legislators in to better represent property taxpayer interests. I am hopeful this new group of legislators will insist on being fiscally responsible in order to adopt a structurally sound budget and make the tough decisions necessary to protect our property taxpayers."