Poughkeepsie… Dutchess County Executive William R. Steinhaus has been faced with the challenge of closing a $40 million gap between preliminary revenue estimates and proposed spending for the 2011 Budget.
According to County Executive Steinhaus, substantial progress has been made, with proposed spending cuts bringing the $40 million dollar gap down to under $15 million. This includes millions of dollars of cuts in services and the corresponding reduction to payroll and staff.
As previously announced by the County Executive, a bold restructuring and reform of county government will consolidate nine county departments, including the abolishment of 6 department head positions. Over his tenure, Mr. Steinhaus has abolished 9 of the 22 department head positions from the county organization he inherited when he became Executive in 1992.
To close the $40 million budget gap, Steinhaus explained, “We’ve had to peel away money from important services that residents use, depend on and have come to expect. The reality, unfortunately, is we have a huge budget gap, but different than Washington and Albany politicians, we are determined to balance the budget.”
“The biggest challenge we are facing now is how to avoid a property tax increase and still pay for our high cost centers,” continued Steinhaus. “That includes the most expensive, non-mandated service cost center for county property taxpayers, which is at the County Sheriffs office.”
Dutchess County property taxpayers will pay an average of $116,000 per deputy sheriff in 2011, including payroll, health and pension benefits, and other related costs. The Sheriff has continually requested annual spending increases for both staff and deputy overtime, including having to cover spikes in benefits costs for each deputy. Retirement premium costs for deputy sheriff pensions are the highest of any employee category in county government.
According to the Budget Office, spending for gasoline for the Sheriff’s vehicle fleet is projected to be $285,000 for 2011. The Sheriff has also requested 42 new cars be purchased next year, which will cost taxpayers an estimated $900,000.
Currently, Sheriff Anderson is proposing to spend $15 million on law enforcement expenses next year. This includes road patrols, boat patrols, five K-9 units, ATV patrols, Detective Divisions, Civil division, school patrols, pistol bureau, central record, communications, etc. “These Sheriffs’ costs are unsustainable without future property tax increases or cost sharing,” said County Executive Steinhaus.
Steinhaus emphasized, “We have made proposals to the Sheriff over the years to contain these costs and to share expenses with the municipalities and school districts where the deputy services are most used.”
“The past two years, we have proposed Sheriff Anderson cost share road patrol expenses with those communities that most demand those services,” said Steinhaus. “We tried to create a more equitable cost balance between localities which tax local property taxpayers millions of dollars to fund their own police department, with those communities who spend nothing for any local police services.” Sheriff Anderson has rejected those proposals.
“Our county budget is constrained by the state mandates adopted by our state senators and assembly members. We are prohibited by law from cutting state mandated program expenses and the staff necessary to provide those state mandated services,” explained County Executive Steinhaus. “This leaves just a few categories of optional spending in county government to cut in order to avoid higher property tax bills. The Sheriff’s Office, as the largest, most expensive, non-mandated county cost center, is where the greatest savings can be achieved to avoid higher property taxes.”
The County has three options to close the remaining multi-million dollar gap:
- Raise the county property tax bill to pay for the expense of sheriff law enforcement and patrols
- Require cost sharing with local governments who want sheriff services , exempting localities who already pay for their own local police departments
- Eliminate various parts of the Sheriffs law enforcement division through layoffs at savings of $116,000 per deputy.
“Again, it is critical to emphasize NONE of these undesirable choices would even have to be talked about, or even considered, if our state senators and assembly members would cut and reform the state mandated expenditures that consume all the money from the entire county property tax levy,” said Steinhaus.
“Yet interestingly, as a political side note, the PBA and Sheriff unions have continually endorsed the state legislators who have created the very state mandates that have placed county governments in the financial vise we are in” commented Steinhaus. “The union leaders have failed to recognize the connection; as unfunded state mandates rise and cost county property taxpayers more and more, there is less discretionary county dollars to pay deputy salaries and sustain deputy sheriff road patrols.”
Steinhaus said, “As the national recession enters its fifth year, the only way to avoid higher property taxes is to reduce some services residents have come to expect. Elected officials must have the political courage to acknowledge these financial realities to help avoid the burden of higher property taxes.”
Steinhaus emphasized, “I want to make it clear the respect and admiration we have for the dangerous work done by our valued deputy sheriffs, but this is simply a problem of not enough money to cover payroll resulting from the national recession and state mandates sucking up all of our funds.”
County Executive Steinhaus will submit his 2011 Executive Budget to the Dutchess County Legislature on November 1st.