Saturday November 17, 2012

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

FORT EDWARD, N.Y. -- Washington County supervisors on Friday approved a 2013 budget and the sale of the county's nursing home and public health services amid some final protestation.

"I don't think this has been picked apart," opined one county resident on the budget.

Calling into question pay raises for county officials, Paul Donaldson of Hartford said salaries couldn't be compared across county lines. "They have massive amounts of money" in Lake George, he said, continuing to say the county attorney was not worth the salary, the amount of sheriff's patrols was not mandated, and "the county administrator hasn't had an original idea in 10 years."

Calling taxpayers the employers of county government, Donaldson said they couldn't afford the tax burden. "Those people are important; you people are not, I hate to tell you," he told supervisors, predicting they would be voted out of office next year.

The budget approved on a 10-7 vote included a 3.08 percent year-over-year increase in the tax levy and, as one supervisor said, "(counted) on the check coming in" from the future sale of county assets.

Supervisors from the local Cambridge area -- including Alan Brown, William "Beaver" Watkins, and Robert Shay, representing Jackson, Cambridge, and White Creek, respectively -- were in the minority to vote against the budget and salary adjustments for certain administrators and department heads.


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Hebron Supervisor Brian Campbell, the county budget officer, said next year's levy would have featured a double-digit increase if the public health services and five county-owned transfer stations had their funding continued. "Everything in this 2013 budget is dependent upon the downsizing of our government," as set in motion, he said.

"I'm hoping we can move these back across the table as fast as we can," Campbell continued, speaking to ongoing negotiations. "The faster we move, the more money we save."

A study prepared for supervisors last year projected the Pleasant Valley Nursing Home would cost the county $11 million in net subsidies over a five-year period; while home health care services were projected to cost an additional $2.546 million over a three-year period.

The county's five transfer stations meanwhile were expected to lose more than $242,000 this year because of declining revenues despite steadily increasing user fees. A public hearing was scheduled for Dec. 21 to hear feedback on proposals the county received to sell or lease those recycling centers.

"I believe we need to stay the course," said Campbell. "If those three things aren't divested ... we're looking at a huge tax increase."

Brown said the county needed sufficient reserves in case one or more of the sales fell through, and he introduced a failed budget amendment to shift $500,000 into the general fund from highway paving.

Separate resolutions approved by the board of supervisors Friday authorized the sale of the county's certified home health care, long-term care, and hospice divisions to HCR Home Care, a Rochester-based firm that bid $550,000 for those services; and the sale of the county's 122-bed Pleasant Valley home in Argyle to the Centers for Specialty Care for $2.4 million.

The county will continue to run those operations while the sales are ratified and approved by the state Health Department. Argyle Supervisor Robert Henke was joined by Greenwich Supervisor Sara Idleman and Watkins in opposing the two measures.

A series of public hearings earlier this year drew mostly opposition to calls for privatization. "I think it's unfortunate we're doing this," said Idleman, calling the home health services "second to none" but acknowledging a "number of things that have conspired against" the county's Public Health and Hospice division, including bad past management.

"I just think the county is the ultimate safety net," she said. "I think it's a huge mistake, a huge mistake."