The County Executive’s "Taxpayer First" Initiative saves taxpayers’ money.
Kingston, NY- County Executive Mike Hein delivered the proposed county operating budget for 2011. With this balanced budget, he streamlined operations and further reduced the county workforce to prevent any increase to the county tax levy. The County Executive made many tough choices and cut spending in numerous departments in order to protect taxpayers from the skyrocketing cost of government.
"In a time when taxes have reached a breaking point, I will not add to the burden by raising county property taxes even one cent, especially when there is a choice. Governments at all levels must learn to operate within the means of the people they’ve been created to serve," said County Executive Mike Hein. "With property taxes in New York State 80% higher than the national average, the foreclosure rate rising and residents fleeing New York, an increase in county taxes is simply unacceptable. I was elected by the citizens of Ulster County to make the difficult decisions needed to hold the line on county spending. This budget protects our vital services while containing the cost of government."
Ulster County Budget Director Arthur Smith said, "Earlier this year, I presented the grim potential for a $15-25 million shortfall in 2011. With the County Executive’s "Taxpayer First" initiative and a strong fiscal management plan including aggressive cost saving measures, he took the actions which were required. He now presents a fiscally sound and balanced budget with a 0% tax increase."
"This new form of government is working," said County Legislator Alan Lomita. The County Executive has actually reduced payroll and brought strong management to county government. As the former Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, I understand the enormous challenges’ he faces with rising state mandates and out of control fixed costs. In spite of this, he’s getting the job done."
State and federal governments require Ulster County to spend 65% of our budget on mandated services. The most onerous of these, the Medicaid obligation, is expected to cost the county $35.4 million in 2011. New York is the only state in the nation to impose such a major burden on county governments. New York State also requires that Ulster County pay 51% of the pre-school special education costs, as well as, 50% of the Food Stamp Program’s costs. In 2011, Ulster County will also be forced to pay $1.85 million in state-mandated, indigent legal defense services. And Ulster County must pay for the sharply rising cost of probation services – currently 86% of total costs.
Ulster County is also required by New York State to contribute to the New York State Pension Fund for our employees. This mandatory contribution has increased by more than $4 million in 2011, an increase of more than 36 %. In 2011 Ulster County’s mandatory contribution to the New York State pension will be $15 million. This is double the amount it was two years ago. It has increased 3,312% from what it was in 2002. This increase is due to the downturn in the national economy and the benefit expansions for government employees passed by the New York State legislature.
Like all employers in our country, healthcare costs are a major expense to Ulster County. Employee healthcare premiums this year were $21.9 million. Announced as part of the County Executive’s "Taxpayer First" initiative, Ulster County is transitioning to a modified self-insurance plan in 2011. This move will avoid over $2.1 million of expenses in 2011, including a New York State imposed fee of $640,000.
Public Works Department Restructure
The Ulster County Department of Public Works is currently undergoing a major restructuring. The workforce is becoming smaller through attrition, retirement incentives and layoffs, reducing the department total benefited positions by 36. The cost savings associated with this departmental restructuring total $2.3 million.
The County Work Force
In the new fiscal paradigm, when the citizens are taxed to the breaking point, government cannot continue to be the largest employer in the county. Therefore, the County Executive has been reducing staffing levels since he took office in 2009. This proposed 2011 budget extends this effort by eliminating 36 previously funded, but vacant positions. In addition, 33 employees are expected to take the early retirement incentive at the end of 2010 and six employees will be laid off, so that this budget includes a decrease in the workforce of 75 positions in 2011. This decrease to the county workforce brings the total reduction of benefited positions since 2009 to 155, or over 8% of the workforce. With this budget, the total number of benefited county workers will be 1,785.
The economic development initiatives Ulster County is undertaking today are instrumental in shaping our future. In this proposed 2011 budget, the County Executive maintains funding to Ulster County’s various economic development programs. There are exciting things happening in the Ulster County business community because of these programs and the funding proposed by the County Executive today will pay dividends in the future.
After extensive analysis, the conservative 2011 sales tax projection is $83.5 million. This is an increase of 2.0% from revised 2010. Despite the expected positive growth of the county’s sales tax revenues, this projection is still $1 million below the 2008 sales tax level and is essentially the same as the 2006 level.
The estimated general fund balance at the end of 2010 is expected to be $26 million. Successful implementation of many components of the "Taxpayer First" initiative and sales tax trending upwards has led to the availability of $12 million from the general fund balance, which will be used to offset the tax levy.
The 2011 tentative tax levy proposed by the County Executive is $76,944,960. The 2010 adopted tax levy was $76,944,960. There is absolutely no difference between the 2011 tax levy proposed by the County Executive and the 2010 adopted tax levy. If adopted by the Legislature, there will be no new county property taxes.
The County Executive called upon the Ulster County Legislature to join him in supporting this fiscally sound budget. It provides for the delivery of all essential services and promotes business while maintaining strong fiscal management. In a time when many New Yorkers are struggling with their bills, the County Executive hopes the Ulster County Legislature will show bi-partisan