Otsego County facing major budget crunch

Otsego County

Otsego County is facing a budget crunch. The annual Baseball Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown drive sales tax and bed tax up for the county.

Students from SUNY Oneonta double that city’s population. This year, the sales tax and bed tax from both of those sources has vanished.

Sales tax has dropped over 10 percent, after growth over at least the last three years. Bed tax, collected when visitors stay in hotels, is almost completely nonexistent.

“I mean, we’ve brought in over a million dollars in bed tax since 2007, 2008. And this year, we’re not even going to get close,” said Allen Ruffles, treasurer in Otsego County.

The county’s budget is much larger than their loss in bed tax, but they can’t control most of their revenue.

The county can control their taxes, though. So, if they want to make up that money, it will have to be through property tax.

“In the county with a budget of $120 million, you’re like, a million dollars? It is what it is. But when you compare that to the property tax levy, which is only $12 million, that’s like eight percent,” said Ruffles.

The county’s plans moving forward rely on Albany. If they get the full state aid they’re expecting, they’ll be able to apply their healthy fund balance to the deficit.

If not, people may see services cut or usually low taxes rising.

“I don’t see them cutting serious services,” said Ruffles. “I think that it may just have to be a combination of borrowing and reducing services with maybe a slight tax increase.”

The total deficit the county expects this year is around 80 percent of its tax levy.

Ruffles said the board would never raise taxes 80 percent, so they have to be creative.

They are holding a hearing next Thursday on possibly overriding their tax levy limit.

“We want as many people there, we want as many people emailing in to say ‘Here are our concerns,’ and that tax levy piece that needs to go out so that people can see what’s truly going to happen with their taxes,” said Ruffles.

Ruffles said even a large tax increase would cost individuals extra tens of dollars, not thousands.

Otsego has been able to keep their taxes low in the past.

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