News

“Putnam exec proposes $113 M budget” by Cara Matthews

Entergy Nuclear Northeast, owners of the Indian Point nuclear power plants in Buchanan, agreed to give Putnam $500,000 to defray the cost of the county’s $11.8 million Emergency Operations and Training Facility that is being built in Carmel.

CARMEL — Putnam County Executive Robert Bondi yesterday proposed an $113.1 million 2004 budget that would increase spending by $7.7 million but, for the seventh consecutive year, would not raise property taxes.

The county would use $11.98 million in surplus money and anticipates an additional 8 percent in sales tax receipts to balance spending in continued tight financial times.

“We’ve been blessed by the growth in spending that’s occurred in this county, that’s allowed us to shift the burden of the real property taxpayer to the sales tax,” Bondi said in a news conference yesterday morning.

If approved by legislators, 2004 would be the 13th year in a row that Bondi and the Legislature either slashed or froze the real property tax rate. This year’s spending is roughly 8 percent higher than 2002. As of the end of July, the county had received $18.7 million of the $33.7 million in sales tax revenue expected in 2003.

Bondi said he will continue to push the “Shop Putnam” program to encourage people to buy goods and services locally. Doing so, he said, will reverse what an economist has called the “Putnam paradox” — having residents with high disposable incomes, but who spend a lot of money outside the county.

Bondi said that if the paradox continues he would have to seek a sales tax increase — as other counties have done in this economy — to balance future budgets.

“We believe that raising taxes must be a last resort, not a first option,” he said.

Legislature Chairman Robert McGuigan, R-Mahopac, said legislators will carefully review the proposal. The Legislature has until Oct. 15 to pass a budget.

Regina Morini, R-Mahopac, said formulating a budget that does not raise property taxes is difficult but necessary. She has received many constituent calls about high school taxes, over which the county has no control.

As for surplus funds, much of the money Bondi is proposing to use was a one-time windfall. A billionaire former publishing magnate and his family gave Putnam $9.25 million last year after being accused of stealing rocks, plants and trees from a county park.

Bondi sounded a note of caution about surpluses. “We now must make everyone, from the Legislature to every citizen of Putnam County, fully aware that we simply cannot appropriate that amount of surplus from year to year,” he said.

His budget would use $360,000 out of Putnam’s Off Track Betting revenues, leaving only $9,000 in the account, finance Commissioner William Carlin said.

Another means to raise money would be setting higher fees for partial tax payments, Health Department programs and motor vehicle registration. Entergy Nuclear Northeast, owners of the Indian Point nuclear power plants in Buchanan, agreed to give Putnam $500,000 to defray the cost of the county’s $11.8 million Emergency Operations and Training Facility that is being built in Carmel.

“This is a great partnership and a great way to provide a level of confidence in the emergency planning process,” said James Knubel, vice president of nuclear affairs for Entergy.

Bondi said he disagrees with legislators who have promoted increasing property taxes gradually to fund spending.

Much of the additional $7.7 million in spending increases next year is for mandated programs, Bondi said. That includes an additional $2.6 million for employee retirement, $1.3 million for Medicaid, $930,000 for health insurance and $860,000 more for the Children with Special Needs Program.

County government has already implemented edicts for departments to save money. Department heads were instructed to slash discretionary budget requests by 5 percent.

Unlike other counties, Putnam does not plan any layoffs. Four positions that are currently vacant would be eliminated for a $335,000 savings. One post each would be in the Probation and Health departments and the Department of Highways and Facilities. An open-space coordinator job, which has never been filled, is the fourth.

There are only a couple new hires. Sheriff Donald Smith is expecting that the state will require a new program officer position to work with education, drug awareness and other special programs in the Putnam County jail, Undersheriff Peter Convery said yesterday. Putnam has been seeking a health commissioner.

Management would see 3 percent salary increases. Union raises are subject to negotiations.

Bondi’s recommended budget includes $400,000 to contract with a private company for home-health aides. Bondi has suggested that a solution for an aide shortage would include a combination of public and private staffing measures, while county lawmakers maintain privatization would be more efficient and cost-effective.

The tentative 2004 capital budget calls for spending $350,000 to repair the roofs of a few buildings at Tilly Foster Farms in Southeast and $27,000 for a veterans museum at Putnam County Veterans Memorial Park in Kent.

This article was originally published in the Journal News

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