Delaware Supervisors wrestling with budget

By Trish Adams
Angst was the feeling most widely expressed by Delaware County supervisors who serve on the committees dedicated to finance and have the decided headache of drawing up next year’s budget.
Tough times breed tough choices, and since the 2008 recession, legislators have faced challenges unknown since deep recessions. The Delaware County tax levy currently stands at $27 million. To give that some perspective the overall budget has gone from $111 million in 2012, to an initial $110 million requested by county departments for 2013. The supervisors have already cut that down to $108 million.

Of course, not all that $108 million comes from the levy on taxpayers. In fact, for every $250,000 that supervisors can cut from the budget, the tax levy decreases about one percent. However, the supervisors also face a double-edged sword, since most of the things they can cut from the budget might also decrease revenues. 

Supervisors are also wary of reaching into the county’s reserves, also known as the fund balance. But this year, they propose taking the $8.8 million fund balance to $6.5 million, to supplement the budget gap. They hope to take in more in sales tax in the coming year, but are being careful with their projections. When a vacancy occurs among county employees, most positions are not being filled.

Services reduced
So, in effect, the county is reducing staff — from health services to county government to corrections and law enforcement — every year. 

Steve Finch, a highly valued employee in the department of emergency services, left just recently for a more lucrative position in the private sector (his position is essential and will be refilled). Meanwhile the county’s psychiatrist is expected to oversee caseload and prescriptions for 1,200 patients a year, an overload the supervisors are seeking to aid with a nurse contracted in part with non-county funds.

Supervisor Peter Bracci of Delhi noted, “This is the most stressful part of my job. We’ve already eliminated any non-mandated services, as in selling Countryside [retirement facility]. We were actually discussing reducing home meals for the needy elderly. Really, is that where we want to go?”

Decrying the role of unfunded mandates
Supervisor Michael Spaccaforna of Masonville is ready to lead the revolution against unfunded state and federal mandates. These are requirements that require counties, towns and schools to fulfill regulations and rules — but provide no funding for their implementation. So the mandates weigh down local budgets, leaving county legislators little room to maneuver around them. If mandates are not followed, thousands and millions of dollars in federal and state funding could be jeopardized. “Something seriously has to be done about these mandates,” said Spaccaforna, adding,

“I really think we need a coalition to do something, a coalition among the counties.”
Several supervisors also expressed discomfort at the choices before them. “It seems that the figures that cause the most distress are for people who can’t take care of themselves,” said Keitha Capouya of Meredith, adding, “You don’t turn to those people first to cut the budget.”

Marjorie Miller of Middletown also expressed frustration that the emphasis should be on growth, not cutting: “How do we grow the county, not shrink it? This whole two percent limit is a false expectation. We should be focused on making this a better place to live and encourage business. The people we [the county] employ raise families here and pay taxes.”

Cutting Peter doesn’t really pay Paul
Chairman James Eisel and Supervisors Donnelly and Marshfield also noted the ‘false positive’ of laying off employees, many of whose salaries are partly covered by federal and/or state entities, and who, once unemployed, no longer pay taxes, no longer provide services that enhance county revenues and wind up dependent on unemployment and county services themselves.

Thomas Hynes of Roxbury spoke out against the idea that governments, like the county, should be run as businesses. “Business is not government, and government should not be run like a business. We have a responsibility to provide services to the people of Delaware County. And in the time I’ve been here, I think we’ve done a pretty good job with what we had.” 

Supervisor Rowe of Hancock spoke eloquently of a time when, not too long ago, budget increases ran as much as 14 percent a year. “We have a fund balance to draw on a rainy day because those public servants years ago made sure we had it. I see the handwriting on the wall, and the DPW [Dept. of Public Works] cuts will have to be made. We just can’t afford it.”

Perhaps most heartfelt was Wayne Marshfield of Hamden, who presented most of the budget details on behalf of the committee and reiterated time and time again how much they had already cut from every area. He went department by department, detailing exactly the cuts each department was asked to bear. None came away unscathed, and there will be more where that came from. 

Increasingly, the supervisors are facing a game of diminishing returns, where cutting staff hurts revenues or cutting programs causes serious service disruptions to those who depend upon them. Most of the budget is not within the supervisors’ discretion, which adds insult to injury. 

If you would like to join in the discussion, there will be a public hearing to discuss the budget on Wednesday, Nov. 28, at noon, in Delhi, at the Charles Cook County Office Building on Main Street. Copies of the tentative budget are available at the Clerk of the Board’s office there.