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Poughkeepsie, NY… With the development of the 2014 Dutchess County budget underway, Dutchess County Executive Marcus J. Molinaro is again asking for resident input in an online budget survey that is now available on the county website. The survey provides residents with an overview of where county government’s revenue comes from and how county dollars are spent. This year’s survey also includes a new “Help Us Balance the Budget” section, where residents can make revenue and expense decisions necessary to close the currently projected $27 million gap for the 2014 budget.
Dutchess County government continues to face tough fiscal challenges including economic stagnancy, rising costs and underfunded state mandates resulting in expenses far outpacing revenues. Rising mandate costs from the state combined with revenue limitations from the state’s property tax cap and unwillingness to grant home rule authorization for other revenue options have frustrated county officials across the state. With limited options for the budget, feedback from residents about the county government programs and services they value is critical as decisions must be made about potential program cuts or revenue increases.
“The challenge of developing the county budget becomes more daunting each year, particularly since our state leaders have not yet followed through on their commitment to balance the property tax cap legislation with significant mandate relief,” said County Executive Molinaro. “As long as we are shackled by state legislation and mandates that limit local decision making about local tax dollars, there will continue to be fewer resources available to fund the optional programs and services important to residents including 911, law enforcements, parks, veterans’ services, mental health and more. Despite these challenges, we continue into year two of our multi-year transformation of county government and the guidance from residents in this survey and other forums is vital to that process.”
The survey serves as an educational tool, both for residents and county officials. Residents are provided with an overview of where county revenue comes from (sales tax, state & federal aid, property tax and other revenue) as well as shows how the money is spent with a breakdown of mandated and optional programs and services. Since optional programs are where county officials have the flexibility to change funding levels, residents are then asked to prioritize optional program areas and provide information about how frequently they use those programs. Optional programming includes E-911, Sheriff law enforcement, snow removal and storm response, Mental Hygiene’s suicide hotline and chemical dependency treatment programs, parks and recreation, and other important programs. Residents are also asked to evaluate community needs based on several category areas provided by community partner agencies. The answers received are crucial for county officials to help understand residents’ priorities and expectations as the budget is crafted.
New this year in the survey is a “Help us Balance the 2014 Budget” section where residents can make their own revenue and expense choices to balance the budget in order to close the preliminary budget gap of $27 million for 2014, including a narrative section where residents can explain their ideas. The gap is the difference between estimated revenues and the projected expenses required to provide programs and services. Rising costs from pensions, healthcare, jail housing out and other areas combined with declining sales tax revenue and blocked home rule requests for mortgage tax revenue are among the issues that create the budget gap.
“Over the last few years, Dutchess County Government has been weathering the effects of the economic downturn by using our rainy day fund, cutting more than 300 county positions, consolidating and transforming county government,” said Budget Director Valerie J. Sommerville. “We continue to review all options in developing the 2014 budget, but those options have diminished, making this a very difficult budget to formulate.”
“The survey was a very helpful tool for us last year during budget development. Not everyone has time to attend a legislative meeting or budget workshop to offer their feedback about what is important to them, but they want to make their voice heard. The survey offers a quick and easy way for residents to offer their input and provide direction to us as their representatives as we work to make the best decisions about the use of their tax dollars,” said Dutchess County Legislator John Forman, who represents the City of Beacon and serves as Vice Chair of the Budget, Finance and Personnel Committee.
The budget survey is available on the county website at Dutchess County Budget Survey. The survey will be available online until October 11, 2013. Survey results will then be reviewed and utilized as final 2014 budget decisions are being made before the required November 1st release of the Executive budget. For those who do not have internet access or want to complete a paper survey, copies of the survey will be available in both English and Spanish by request at the Dutchess County Budget Office in the County Office Building at 22 Market Street in Poughkeepsie or at the Dutchess County Department of Motor Vehicle offices in Poughkeepsie, Beacon, Millbrook, Pawling and Wappinger. The Spanish version will also be available to print online. Special thanks to Hudson River Housing for helping with the translation to Spanish, to be sure the survey reaches as many residents as possible. All paper survey responses should be delivered or mailed to the Dutchess County Budget Office 22 Market Street, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601.
Dutchess County Legislature Chairman Robert G. Rolison said, “I encourage every resident to take this survey, including each of our county legislators. It is a convenient and accessible way to understand a complicated process. I look forward to getting the survey results back and learning what choices residents would like to see made for the 2014 county budget.
County Executive Molinaro concluded, “We are here to work for the people of Dutchess County, we need to hear from the people about what they want and expect from their county government so we can, through open transparent government, strive to build a Dutchess County Government that is attentive and responsive to the service needs of our residents while considering their ability to pay for them. I encourage every resident to spend just a few minutes to take the survey and be part of the decision making for their county government.”