Full time Veteran's Service Director post restored to county budget

Gwen Chamberlain
Yates County Veteran's Services Director Earle Gleason, left, discusses the budget with county legislators.

After reducing the tentative 2015 county budget by $79,530 during Monday’s 2015 budget workshop, Yates County Legislators restored the Veteran’s Service Director position to a full time post, adding more than $36,000 in potential salary and benefits costs to the spending plan.

The legislators began their second workshop session Tuesday working with a new total property tax levy of $15.78 million, an increase of $325,091 or 2.1 percent over the 2014 budget. At the end of the day (after The Chronicle-Express print press time), the legislators approved the preliminary budget which calls for a total tax levy of $15.82 million, a $366,140 (2.3 percent) increase over the 2014 budget. The tentative budget presented by Budget Officer Sarah Purdy called for a 2.6 percent increase, which was still within the state tax cap.

Facing a room full of veterans who applauded the final vote on the position, the legislators decided to keep the position full time after current Veteran’s Services Director Earle Gleason retires.

Voting in favor of the motion offered by District III Legislator Leland Sackett were: Bill Holgate (District IV), Dan Banach (District III), Sackett, Mark Morris (District III), Bob Clark (District II), Margaret Dunn (District I), Bonnie Percy (District IV) and Jim Multer (District IV). Voting to keep the position part time were Leslie Church (District III), James Smith (District II), Tim Dennis (District II), Douglas Paddock (District I), Gary Montgomery (District I), and Elden Morrison (District I).

“Our young men and women don’t sign up for part time, and they don’t deserve part time when they get home,” said Sackett before the vote.

During his budget presentation, Gleason said while much of the work of applying for veteran’s benefits can be done online, there have been significant problems with the Veteran’s Administration systems resulting in problems for individual veterans who then rely on the local office for assistance.

During the public comment portion of the session, New York State Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander William Schmitz told the legislators, “You’re compromising an area (of the budget) in the wrong era... This issue is a nice idea for the budget, but it sucks for your constituents. This could bite you in the butt.”

He said there are too many uncertainties about future needs of veterans. “We have people working in Ebola now and who knows what’s going to happen in the Middle East,” he said.

The tentative budget proposed by Budget Officer Sarah Purdy had included funding for the position as a part time post.

The spending plan will not become a final budget until after a public hearing and final vote by the legislature to adopt it as the final budget. Changes can still be made in the plan. The public hearing has not yet been scheduled.

By the time legislators took their lunch break Tuesday, they had worked through all budget categories and revenue projections. They were planning to resume general discussions and an executive session Tuesday afternoon. It was not yet determined if they would approve the budget as a preliminary budget Tuesday, or wait until after the November Finance Committee meeting.

Monday Workshop

During Monday’s workshop, a majority of the legislators voted against cuts to county contributions to Cornell Cooperative Extension. Montgomery cast the only “aye” vote to reduce the recommended county support by $62,000 to $177,445. Fellow District I Legislator Morrison had seconded Montgomery’s motion, but after discussion, joined 11 other legislators in voting against the reduction (Dennis abstained from the vote. His wife is an employee of the Cooperative Extension).

Montgomery said he made the recommendation because the CCE budget includes an unspecified fund balance.

Skip Jensen, president of the Cooperative Extension board told legislators, “That is going to cut the guts right out of our program. You might as well close the doors.”

Upon that motion’s defeat, Morrison offered a motion to reduce the county contribution by $20,000. He and Montgomery cast the only “aye” votes.

A motion from Dunn would increase the county’s contribution to The Arc of Yates County from $5,000 to $10,000. Morrison and Morris also voted in favor of the increase, but the motion failed.

In 2012 and 2013, the county contributed over $30,000 to The Arc of Yates.

Paddock said he wouldn’t consider any additional spending unless there was corresponding revenue. Dennis added, “We are so close (to the tax cap), if we are going to offer additional funding, we need to know a source of revenue.”

During her presentation to the legislature, Kate Ring, executive director of The Arc of Yates said the county contribution helps the agency provide vocational and employment services to individuals. She reminded the legislators that the Yates and Schuyler County Chapters are in the process of merging as a way to reduce administrative costs. Jeannette Frank, executive director of The Arc of Schuyler explained the two agencies are discussing the merger because of the impact of Medicare reform on the funding.

She said Schuyler County provides $25,000 to The Arc of Schuyler.

No changes were made to Budget officer Sarah Purdy’s recommended funding for the Tourism Promotion Agency, ProAction, and Yates County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Most of Monday’s savings came from Sheriff Ron Spike’s budgets for communications, dispatch, law enforcement, the jail and court security and animal control.

The changes that will have an influence on the tax levy include an increase in anticipated grant revenues, decreases in communications consultant ($1,000), corrections officers overtime ($10,000), prisoner drugs ($2,000), prisoner food ($5,000) and several other smaller reductions.

Legislators discussed, but took no action on a recommendation to purchase a new vehicle for the Sheriff’s Department rather than a used vehicle to transport prisoners.

A lengthy discussion centered on plans to repair a damaged roof at the Highway Department facility in Benton. Earlier this year, the legislators had approved a capital project estimated to cost $108,000 to replace one of three roof areas.

Montgomery asked if it might make more sense to do more roofing work since there is more than $411,000 in the building reserve fund.

Purdy said she and Dennis have been meeting with representatives from the Penn Yan School District and Village of Penn Yan about the potential for some kind of shared services facility. “The idea is to not put too much money into facilities that might be part of such a plan,” she said.

Legislator Dan Banach of District III, chairman of the Public Works Committee, said he hates to deplete the reserves because of the potential for needs in the 40-year-old Public Safety Building.

The Information Technology and Central Telephone portions of the budget also generated significant discussion because of plans for upgrades to both systems.

Historian Fran Dumas, who is working on a major records management plan for the county, made a strong argument for investment in technology, saying, “We need a robust network here in this building and the associated buildings...everybody in county government has had to reduce staff. I have lost most of my staff, yet the amount of work has not lessened...We have to be more efficient and our network has to work,” she said, adding that she can’t apply for a grant for the project if there is some kind of commitment from the county.

When the legislators turned to her budget for the Historian’s office and asked if she had any additional comments on that budget, she drew a laugh from most people in the room when she replied, “It’s the same budget as last year. Totally inadequate.”