HUDSON–Canaan Supervisor Richard Keaveney (R), Ancram Supervisor Arthur Bassin (D), County Controller Ronald Caponera and Board of Supervisors Chairman Patrick Grattan (R-Kinderhook) held a special Financial Review Committee meeting June 5 to provide an update on the county’s cash concerns and to describe additional steps they are taking to manage it. County Treasurer PJ Keeler was unable to attend, although commented on the situation in May.
The county continues to feel the impact from unpaid property taxes, which amounted to $14.3 million at the beginning of the year. And taxes aren’t the only problem. Required contributions to the state retirement system are on the rise because of market adjustments and five-year averaging to make up for overall investment losses suffered during the recent downturn. A third factor is a marked slowdown in federal and state reimbursements—all of which contribute to the cash flow problems the committee is working to stem.
Aggressively pursuing long-delinquent property owners is at the top of the committee’s list, and letters prepared by the County Attorney now have gone out to all who have not paid, advising them that they are in foreclosure and demanding that they remedy the situation.
There are 37 properties on the foreclosure list, and county officials are waiting for a court order to sell them. The county has retained the services of Trinity Abstract to conduct title searches, the first step in the foreclosure process.
Mr. Grattan said that, “while it could be an affordability issue, we know the more aggressive we are about doing foreclosures, the more rapidly the money will come in. It can take 24 months to finalize a foreclosure.” Progress is being made: thus far this year, the county collected $1.9 million in delinquent property taxes, which $400,000 more than anticipated.
Another action the committee is considering is capping the amount of sales tax the county returns to the towns. The state collects the sales tax and then distributes the 4% of total sales due the county. Currently the county divides 30% of those sales tax revenues among the towns.
The Committee also is examining various businesses that the county manages, which include home health care and nursing care, to determine whether there may be more cost-effective methods to deliver these services.
On the expense side, the committee is considering borrowing to fund roads and other infrastructure rather than paying for those expenses from the operations budget as it now does). Current low interest rates make doing so a viable option.
Restructuring the way in which the county pays for employee benefits also is in play, notably self insuring health care with a higher deductible. The county already has benefited from self insuring drugs, for an annual savings of $200,000.
A committee has been formed to work with department heads to review all current employment positions, vacancies and any new positions, along with salaries for each. But the committee said it is not considering job cuts, although it is considering consolidating and centralizing certain functions.
Also under consideration is attracting new businesses into the county. Mr. Grattan lauded the efforts of Kenneth J. Flood, commissioner of planning and economic development, for his work in this effort.
The committee noted that the cash flow concerns are driven primarily by revenue issues, not expenses, and that the county has $35 million in cash for the balance of 2013. The cash concerns, although real, now are receiving the attention of the full Board of Supervisors.