KINGSTON – A local think-tank, directed by former Ulster County chair and SUNY Distinguished Professor of Political Science Gerald Benjamin, issued a report last week critical of the model used by the county to predict revenue sources and warned officials of potential shortfalls in the upcoming budget.
Commissioned by Ulster County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach to examine trends in the county's primary revenue sources, the report, which was created by The Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) of the State University at New Paltz, highlights several areas of concern, which include anticipated budget shortfalls, an increasing reliance on property taxes, and a steep decline in sales tax revenue.
Auerbach urges budget directors and the legislature to adopt the commission's recommendations, which point to the need for long-term financial and multi-year revenue planning for establishing a policy regarding the fund balance, and to budget a reserve fund for uncollected taxes.
Released from the comptroller's office last week, the report noted that the drop-off in sales tax revenue for the county was 7.5 percent, ranking Ulster as the fourteenth worst in New York State. Since sales and property taxes are the county's primary revenue sources, to offset the shortfall, the county must rely on property taxes and the fund balance.
The report notes that in 2010, the county will collect 151 percent more revenue from property tax than it did in 2002. While rising property values account for some of that increase, in 2002, only 30 percent of our county's revenue came from collected property taxes; in 2009, that number increased to 48.9 percent.
Another disconcerting trend highlighted in the report is the widening deficit between projected revenue and actual money received. Last year's sales tax revenues were budgeted at $85 million, but only $77.7 was collected; the shortfall resulted in a $7.8 million deficit at year's end, which was taken from the fund balance.
The county budget has increased precipitously since 2002, when it stood at roughly $100 million. By comparison, 2010's adopted budget is $156 million, down from 2008's $169 million.
"We need a new approach to budgeting. We need our planning to better anticipate the future," Auerbach said. "Through these processes we can also begin to establish financial performance measures to evaluate our progress."
Legislator Seeks To Entice Doctors to Ulster
Last week, Robert Parete, D-Stone Ridge, member of the county's Health and Human Services Committee, announced the details of a resolution aimed at recruiting and retaining physicians and medical specialists in Ulster County.
The resolution notes a "substantial decline" in health care training programs in recent years due to the prohibitive cost of such training that "represents an insurmountable barrier for many residents of rural areas."
Currently, the law allows county awards only for professional education in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, optometry, and veterinary medicine. Parete feels that the resolution will broaden the scope of the recognized and licensed health care professionals, which will better address the health care needs in rural communities.
If adopted by the full legislature, the Ulster County Healthcare Professional Recruitment and Retention Act of 2010 will require awardees to commit to an internship for a period of time to be determined by the county Board of Health. In addition, interns must devote a "significant" amount of weekly time to care for the county's un-insured and under-insured in clinical locations.
The resolution calls on the legislature to allocate funding, "by means of public or private partnerships," to reimburse awardees for tuition costs. Participating healthcare institutions will be required to provide housing for awardees, who will be selected by a review board consisting of the President of the Ulster County Chapter of the American Medical Association, Public Health Director of the Ulster County Department of Health, the Ulster County Executive, Chairman of the Ulster County Board of Health, and the Chairman of the Ulster County Legislature.
Garnering the unanimous support of the HHS committee, the resolution has been sent for review to the Ulster County Board of Health, and will then be brought to the floor for a vote by the full legislature. In the meantime, Parete welcomes community feedback on the resolution and asks that the public contact him with questions at email@example.com.