BY MICHAEL RICONDA
New City – The Joint Legislative-Executive Task Force met on May 6 to review progress made on the 2013 budget during the first quarter of the year and emerging fiscal issues, but reported no major obstacles.
The discussion, which is part of a larger program to keep a running dialogue between the legislative and executive branches, went over a number of topics including the voluntary targeted incentive program, revenue changes from 2012 to 2013, census counts at the hospital and nursing home, vacant positions which might be abolished.
The biggest items were overall revenue and expenditure figures. Commissioner of Finance Stephen DeGroat explained that overtime figures were largely on-the-mark, while Legislator Alden Wolfe explained that in spite of unexpectedly high spending in areas such as the highway and hospital funds, the budget this year was progressing largely according to plan.
Wolfe also noted that not only were expenditures under control, but revenue was up. He attributed the improvements to a more accurate, better-structured budget.
“We’re doing okay across all funds in terms of the budget, and I think that’s important,” Wolfe explained. “The numbers that we put in are more realistic.”
The voluntary incentive program which came to a vote on May 7 and the related issue of vacant positions were also discussed. Seventy-three total vacancies were tallied, with an estimated 52 which were ready for abolishment.
Wolfe explained the incentive program drew candidates for abolishment from an initial list, but discussion on critical and noncritical positions was ongoing and the positions would not be eliminated outright without review. Still, Wolfe explained positions would be abolished as soon as possible.
“If we have an opportunity to abolish some positions that are not necessary anymore, then now’s the time to do it, sooner rather than later,” Wolfe urged.
The census count at the hospital and nursing home was totaled to 33 out of 57 beds and 211 out of 321 beds, respectively. DeGroat explained the relatively low head count was impacting revenues at the facilities, which prompted suggestions from Cornell for a public relations effort to advertise the hospital and inform county residents that in spite of speculation, the facility was not closing.
“The value of that is really going to depend on the number of beds that are filled,” Cornell said. “I really think there needs to be some kind of campaign to the public, to the hospitals, and to doctors so that they know that facility is open and it’s running.”
Wolfe also announced that in the aftermath of a lawsuit to award the long-delayed bus contract to Brega, the county had received a favorable result was prepared to sign a contract.
However, Chief of Staff Sean Matthews explained there were still undisclosed issues which required resolution before the contract could go through and that he was unsure if they would be fixed by the end of the three month extension on temporary bus contracts. “I would hope so, but you just don’t know,” Matthews explained.