Also will refinance bond to cover projected losses
Scrambling to address the economic havoc caused by the COVID-19 crisis, Putnam County legislators this week approved budget cuts for the remainder of 2020 to cover a projected $2.3 million sales tax revenue shortfall.
They also agreed to refinance a 2012 bond to save about $77,000 annually over the next six years.
The Legislature acted on Tuesday (July 7) at its monthly meeting, following discussion then and at a June 29 session of the Audit and Administration Committee. Both meetings occurred via audio link.
Amid the gloom, two silver linings emerged: More Medicaid funding from the federal government and a potential sales tax balm.
At the Audit meeting, Finance Commissioner Bill Carlin said county officials opted to cut spending now to “hopefully avoid more difficult decisions later.” He said that as of late June, sales tax income was $1.7 million less than anticipated by the 2020 budget. Sales taxes account for 40 percent of the budget.
Carlin said that some of the anticipated losses could be made up by the collection of sales tax on internet sales, although that won’t be known before August.
Legislator Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown and is the only Democrat on the nine-member panel, expressed concerns at the Audit meeting about budget reductions in the Department of Social Services, Health Department and Sheriff’s Department, which she said were “essential services. I’d never want to see cuts in staffing.”
At the July 7 meeting, Legislator Neal Sullivan of Carmel-Mahopac expressed concern about overtime expenses in the Sheriff’s Department for dispatchers and emergency communications. He asked for data on the number of calls being handled so legislators could “make sure it warrants all this money spent.”
Legislator Ginny Nacerino of Patterson noted that the agency had two job vacancies, with deputies covering for the time being.
Montgomery also said the Legislature should see call-volume numbers but added that all departments should provide overtime-related records. She said the Sheriff’s Department receives frequent calls related to COVID-19 and demonstrations and because “everybody is on edge.”
The Legislature then voted 9-0 to approve Sheriff’s Department transfers of $12,142 to fund the overtime.
On June 29, speaking to the Audit Committee, Carlin credited Sen. Chuck Schumer with wresting more Medicaid funding from the federal government as part of COVID-19 relief legislation passed on March 11. As a result, Putnam will be required to spend $1.2 million less this year than it would have, Carlin said. Statewide, the savings for counties is expected to approach $1.8 billion, according to the state Health Department.
On Tuesday, county legislators voted to use the $1.2 million in savings to help make up for the sales tax deficit.
Carlin also warned the Audit Committee that “we could see cuts of anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent,” or $4.4 million to $11.1 million, in state aid because of COVID.
After Sullivan suggested that state leaders “can’t seem to get their fiscal house in order,” Montgomery suggested that legislators “could look at this on every level. We can say that if we in Putnam managed our finances better, towns would be getting more from the county. If New York State managed finances better, counties would be getting more. To lay blame on any one particular government doesn’t serve anybody.”
In a memo to legislators, Carlin cautioned that libraries and nonprofits such as the Putnam History Museum in Cold Spring, Cornell Cooperative Extension and Putnam Humane Society should not expect much county funding in 2021. The county might be able, “at most,” to offer funding at the 2020 level, “but this may not be possible, given our fiscal circumstances,” he wrote.
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