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Columbia County sets committees, eyes savings

Jan 15, 2011 12:49 pm
The Columbia County Board of Supervisors halved its number of working committees through consolidation and the doubling up of tasks, according to a story in the Register-Star about its meeting last week. A few supervisors complained that the mash-ups would make for too much work and that the six-member committee structures did not allow for possible voting ties. Francesca Olsen's Register-Star piece on the committees notes the county Board of Supervisors’ number of committees have decreased from 19 to eight, though two members -- Pat Grattan, R-Kinderhook, and Reggie Crowley, R-Copake -- votied “no” on the new structure. At the same meeting, the Board's chairman, Roy Brown, said that it was too early to start making budget cutting decisions, given how everyone's still waiting for word on what the state will be cutting in terms of aid, as well as mandates, although some choices were outlined this week. Register-Star stories in their January 15 issue reported on both issues.

In terms of financial decisions, the county controller and treasurer have developed a list of contingencies in the event cuts from the state translate into new expenses for the county, with no layoffs planned. Instead, a number of small revenue hiking and cutting costs are under consideration, including shrinking the county's basic work week to four days, lagging pay checks by a week, selling off the county's soil and water building in Ghent, and going down to single person snow plows, as is happening in Greene County.

Instead, the county may do the following to gain revenue in the event of any shortfalls:

- Charge for airport parking. There’s currently no charge for parking at the Columbia County Airport on Route 66 in Ghent. It’s estimated that $10,000 can be made in 2011 by charging for parking, officials said.

- Repeal the clothing tax abatement. This has already been done, and according to Brown, no other changes will be made regarding the tax exemption except for those voted on by the BOS in December. From March 1 through April 1, 2011, clothing and shoes, regardless of price, will be taxed; but from April 1, 2011 through April 1, 2012, the sales tax will only apply to clothing and footwear purchases more than $55. After April 1, 2012, it will go back to the way it was, with the sales tax exemption applied to purchases more than $110.

- Close all non-essential services on Fridays. “Non-essential,” in a nutshell, means “not related to public safety/not providing mandated programs.” For example, the county controller, treasurer and attorney’s office would close on Fridays. “Most of the offices in (401 State Street),” would be considered non-essential, Brown explained. Salaried employees’ income would be “adjusted accordingly,” said Controller Ronald Caponera. According to the county’s contingency list, this action would save around $650,000.

- Maintain a zero wage increase in 2011. Expected to save $750,000 over the course of the year.

- Eliminate community home health care service. Brown said the county is working on a “feasibility study to look at the costs of community home health care and what it’s doing for us.” There’s currently no cost savings estimate for this item.

- Lag payroll one week.

- Eliminate all non-essential vehicles. Again, “non-essential” means not related to public safety — no plans are in the works to retire any police vehicles. But, Brown said, gesturing to the employee parking lot outside the 401 State St. County Office Building, “a lot of those vehicles you see out there would be eliminated.” This would include department head vehicles — and Brown’s vehicle. “If we pulled the trigger on that initiative, I’d be willing to give up my own private vehicle (issued to him by the county for use),” he said. That measure would end up saving the county around $100,000, according to the contingencies list.

- Change the health insurance plan for county employees. Expected to save up to $500,000.

- Freeze all non-essential capital purchases. Expected to save $1 million to $2 million in county costs.

- One man snow plowing. According to Public Works Commissioner David Robinson, two county employees are currently in each plow truck; this initiative would leave just one man in each truck. This would cut down on hours, overtime hours included, but “on the flipside, we’d need to implement a training program,” Robinson said, adding that some county roads may not be conducive to that idea. The county may also implement reduced snowplowing on county-maintained roads — “maybe once every two hours (instead of twice), based on what we see in Albany,” Brown said. This could save $400,000.

- Eliminate local share funding. It’s been business as usual to issue checks to the towns and villages of Columbia County from leftover tobacco securitization funds. Hudson gets a share, too; treasurer Ken Wilber said municipalities usually use it to offset EMS costs. They’ve doled out $4 million over the last decade through this program, and it would save the county $400,000 if they didn’t do it this year. “If municipalities are using it towards their EMS costs, it may be passed to the taxpayers on the other end,” he said.

- Sell the soil and water building. It’s not for sale yet, but the county estimates around $1 million in revenue from the sale of the building, located on Route 66 in Ghent.