Despite all the recent fanfare about the County’s “good” fiscal position and the County Executive’s claims, the Dutchess County 2015 Tentative Budget does not live up to all its praise and rhetoric. Reducing the entire county’s property tax by a mere $300,000 is not something the taxpayer should get too excited about.
The fact of the matter is that the new spending plan has a series of historic highs and lows. The County Executive’s Budget sets an all-time record high for spending. The Budget borrows more and increases our debt service to record high levels and puts in motion significant future tax increases to hit taxpayers in 2016; the 2015 Budget creates a recurring structural deficit that sharply drains the fund balance; and the so-called property tax relief is so negligible that some residents may actually see their taxes rise. The Capital Plan for 2015 is incomplete and not transparent, and claims the Pod’s will save the County $1 million in 2015 which remains to be seen.
A few weeks ago the County Executive took credit when he celebrated a “fiscal success” that Dutchess County Government ended its 2013 fiscal year with a surplus of $6,000,000. Upon further analysis of the fiscal year report for 2013, the county’s surplus was derived mostly from withholding over $5 million in sales tax revenues from Dutchess County’s Towns, Cities, and Villages, and slashing much needed mental health programs by nearly $7 million.
“There is a limit to the number of cuts governments can sustain before the costs—to the work lives of its employees and to services it provides—begin to outstrip the savings benefits.,” said County Legislator Francena Amparo (D-Town of Wappinger, Village of Wappingers Falls).
“The County Executive’s priorities are misplaced,” said County Legislator Joel Tyner (D-Clinton/Rhinebeck) and then he added, “While he was in Albany he voted to impose a property tax cap on cities, towns, and villages without any mandate relief, and now that he’s county executive, he’s shortchanging these municipalities their fair share of sales tax revenue forcing them to cut services and raise taxes and fees.”
“The County Budget is being balanced on the backs of our local governments and the people who rely on mental health services,” said Minority Leader Barbara Jeter-Jackson (D-City of Poughkeepsie) and then added, “The City of Poughkeepsie has imposed garbage fees and parking meters to balance their budget to make up the $2 million dollars in lost sales tax revenue from the County.”
“In one breath the County Executive claims fiscal soundness and surpluses, and yet he imposed an $8 million residential energy tax in 2014 because county government faced a deficit,” said Legislator Micki Strawinski (D – Red Hook) and then she added “Can he really claim success when the county’s policies have harmed local residents in our municipalities?
Legislator April Farley (D-Beacon) added, “If there really is a surplus, then consideration should be made to bringing municipalities back to the pre-2012 sales tax distribution levels or putting some of the monies back in mental hygiene and other health, wellness, nutrition and caregiver programs.”
“How can we as representatives of the people of our districts vote for a Capital Plan that leaves out the cost of several projects in 2015 that could easily lead to well over $200 million in borrowing?” County Legislator Rich Perkins (D-Hyde Park, Town of Poughkeepsie) asked.
“Every budget is complex; it is impacted by current economic conditions, government obligations and the goals of the administration. As Legislators it is critical to scrutinize this document with prudence as to the long term effects should it pass in its present form and that is what this caucus has done,” said Alison MacAvery, Assistant Minority Leader.