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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Not Time To Cheer Yet

Last night the Lewis County Board of Legislators demanded further cuts from their beleagured Department heads. This is in an attempt to reduce the tax increase to zero and thwart criticism of their hoarding of 14.6 million dollars (this the correct figure- not the watered down 11 million dollar figure often repeated) of taxpayer's money in the fund balance.
While certainly hard pressed taxpayers will rightfully cheer a halt to property tax increases, we should look at what happened last night before we stand up and applaud.
Steep cuts in department spending were already made before last night. Some of the cuts that have been asked for may involve programs that produce revenue, meaning that cutting them produces no net savings.
A massive cut of nearly 25% was demanded of the Election Board. While I doubt this is possible, if it does occur it will be an illusion. Why? Many of Election's services are mandated, and whether the County budgets for them or not, they still must be performed. The bills will still come in and will still need to be paid for. From where? The contingency fund. Taxpayers savings? Zero. Meanwhile due to these "cuts", the Fund Balance, our taxpayer money, the Legislators slush fund, has grown still larger.
While cuts to reduce taxes can be a good thing, this Board of Legislators is at the point of hurting services to our the very same time it is hoarding our money.
It appears that too many on the Board of Legislators are too willing to be led by people that have either a grave misunderstanding of who that Fund Balance belongs to, or that have an agenda that causes them to wish to hoard taxpayer's dollars.
Maybe they want to spend more money on consultants to do still yet another Comprehensive Plan, or fund another special interest motel study, or sue the DEC or hire a high priced Syracuse law firm to defend an illegal law from a lawsuit brought by a self represented citizen.
Maybe, they just don't know what the heck they are doing.
Whatever their issues are, the taxpayer issue must remain focused. Lewis County can afford to apply a significant amount of Fund Balance to the budget and reduce our taxes.
It's our money...and we want it in our pockets.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hey Lewis Legislators... That's our money!!!

The Lewis County Board of Legislators seems intent on passing a budget that includes a property tax hike when people can least afford it. Never mind that the property tax is the most regressive and unfair tax of all. What is most galling is that the Legislators are crowing about not taking as much money out of the Fund Balance as last year. If they would, taxpayers would see a much needed tax decrease.
Why should more money be applied to the budget from the Fund Balance to reduce taxes? Because it's our money and they've (the County) have got lots of it. The County has 11.8 million dollars in its Fund Balance and Lewis County General Hospital has another 2.8 million dollars for a total of a 14.6 million dollar Fund Balance. The hospital's Fund Balance is the County's, just as when the hospital lost money, the loss was made up out of the County's Fund Balance. Further, the hospital has several million dollars in investments from previous positive Fund Balances.
At a minimum, the County should apply the same amount of dollars to this budget as they did last year. The County's Fund Balance has grown substantially since last year and County government can not plead poverty to its hard pressed taxpayers.
Lewis County Legislative Board Chairman Jack Bush has been hiding behind County ownership of the hospital as a reason for maintaining a bloated Fund Balance. That dog doesn't hunt. Bush points to the 1990's when the hospital was losing money as his example. Let's look at the facts.
In the mid-1990's while the County carried an approximate 30 million dollar budget, the hospital
was losing money and the County's Fund Balance was approximately 4.5 million dollars. Now the County budget is at about 42 million dollars, the hospital has made money for the last ten years and the County's Fund balance is at 14.6 million dollars.
Put another way, during a time while the County's budget has increased about 50% and during a time while the hospital has been making money, the County's Fund Balance has tripled. That's our money their hoarding, folks.
As an aside, it is germain to point out that Chairman Bush was a strong supporter of the hospital mangement that managed to lose all that money in the 90's.
I've heard it said that the Board of Legislators is saving that Fund Balance for a rainy day. It's not their money to hang onto. It belongs to us, the taxpayers, that have enough rainy days of our own to contend with. Spend down the Fund Balance . Reduce property taxes.
Let us spend our money on our own rainy days.
Besides, this group has proven itself too self serving to be allowed its own public slush fund. What's next? Buying a railroad track for ATVs?