DENISE A. RAYMO
MALONE — Franklin County legislators were optimistic Thursday that the budget deficit they may face for 2013 won't be as bad as the $8 million shortfall they started with for this year.
County Manager Thomas Leitz offered legislators a financial projection five years out, saying the gap between expenses and revenue will be about $4 million in 2013, "but there are some bright spots" that will erase that amount by half.
For example, the County Nursing Home will collect $1 million owed to it this year, which means any cost overruns at the facility will come out of that money, not the county's general fund, as in years past.
Leitz said he found between $400,000 and $500,000 in potential "non-controversial" cuts, and the County Highway Department is expecting a $500,000 reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for flood-damage expenses incurred in 2011.
Those items would remove about $2 million from the anticipated gap, leaving another $2 million to be made up while still allowing the county to hold any tax-levy increase under 2 percent to comply with the state tax-cap mandate.
CLOSING THE GAP
"The starting point is nowhere near what it was," Leitz said. "And closing the gap of what's left may not be impossible. Anything we do to close that gap permanently will save in 2014."
He said that by 2015, 2016 or 2017, the county might be able to add back in its budget instead of reducing things.
"I'm not a betting man, but there is a probability of hitting the tax cap in 2014 and for the foreseeable future," Leitz said.
He said the numbers are fluid and that he made his projections without including any money expected from an agreement the county has with the state and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe concerning slot-machine-revenue sharing from the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino.
Anticipated payments to both Franklin and St. Lawrence counties, as well as the four most-impacted townships near the casino are being held in escrow because the Mohawks say the state broke its agreement by allowing slot machines at the Ganienkeh Mohawk territory near Altona.
Leitz could also not pinpoint expenses for the Department of Social Services, which fluctuates depending on the number of people receiving assistance.
If the economy improves, fewer people would draw benefits, and that would change the county's bottom line, Leitz said.
"The future is looking up the next couple of years," he said.
The projection does not include any money for raises for union and non-union workers.
Leitz also did not include funds for mandated repair of the Nursing Home's sprinkler system or its deteriorating roof.
But if the county made the repairs and kept the building on Finney Boulevard after the Nursing Home's planned merger with Alice Hyde Medical Center's nursing home goes through, he said, the Department of Social Services could move into that building.
At the same time, the county could save $200,000 a year on property leases for the former Tru-Stitch building on Catherine Street and former Ponderosa Restaurant, which now houses the OneWork Source offices.
Both entities could move into the County Courthouse in the vacated Social Services space.
Email Denise A. Raymo at: firstname.lastname@example.org