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Lewis County legislators eye potential $2 million-plus budget gap

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators began talks Monday on how to handle a budget gap for 2013 that is initially projected at more than $2 million.

“These are the known increases before we even go to the departments,” said County Manager David H. Pendergast during a budget work session.

Mr. Pendergast, in a handout, showed projected cost increases and revenue losses for 2013 at $2.4 million, with half of that being $1.2 million for intergovernmental transfer funding for Lewis County General Hospital.

The funding, intended to reimburse health care facilities partially for losses incurred on Medicaid, uninsured and charity care patients, is paid at unspecified times by the federal government, with the feds covering half and the county required to cover the other half.

The county set aside $1.9 million for IGT in its 2012 budget, but Mr. Pendergast said hospital officials are now expecting to receive about $6.2 million this year through the program, with $3.1 million to come from the county.

However, hospital CEO Eric R. Burch told lawmakers that 2012 IGT funding is projected to be much higher than usual because of reconciliations from past years and likely won’t carry over to 2013.

“I don’t believe it is going to stay that high,” he said.

If an increase is warranted, it could be done gradually over a few years to avoid such a large budget hit next year, said Legislator Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden.

Other projected increases on the list, however, are more set in stone.

They include $400,000 for state retirement, $264,120 in employee salaries and benefits stemming from contractual raises, $204,582 for three additional correction officers mandated by the state, $113,880 for Medicaid, $100,000 for the preschool program and $99,825 in buildings and grounds, primarily because of a the state reimbursing for one fewer cleaner in the courthouse.

Mr. Pendergast warned lawmakers that departmental cuts over the past couple of years have put most on the “bare bones” category.

“They’ve taken a 40 percent cut over the last two years,” he said.

Legislators directed Mr. Pendergast to ask department heads to cut an additional 10 percent for 2013 but expressed concern that such a move could result in more extensive job cuts and reduction in services. The county manager is also to explore the potential for employee furloughs, farming out highway services to towns or private firms and legislation allowing for an override of the state tax cap, just in case it is needed.

Legislators expressed the desire not to raise taxes too drastically.

Lawmakers also discussed potential financial restrictions to be placed on the county-owned hospital upon establishment of a local development corporation, which would allow for long-term borrowing to help out the cash-strapped facility.

Lawmakers decided to require hospital officials to provide a strategic recovery plan within 30 days, a 2013 tentative budget by Oct. 15 and monthly financial reports reconciled with treasurer’s office figures. They plan to also review nonunion salary increases but chose not to include a clause allowing them to review all contracts of more than $50,000.

Legislators plan to act upon the creation of an LDC and implementation of the restrictions at their 9 a.m. meeting today, with an organizational meeting for the new corporation, if formed, to be held at 11 a.m.

Initial LDC board members are expected to be Anthony G. Andre, a retired Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. regional manager, and former local mill managers Timothy J. Reagan and Samuel F. Villanti, although a few others are also being considered.

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