We are living in unprecedented economic times. Not since our grandparents grappled with the Great Depression do we face a financial crisis of such major proportions.
Local governments always face the greatest challenge in this kind of crisis. We are the last line of service and often the last line of aid. We are expected to be able to provide the local services that our residents have come to expect, such as snow and ice removal in the winter to allow transportation and road access for commerce, employment and pleasure and road maintenance and repairs in the spring, summer and fall.
We must also deliver on services that are either mandated by state and federal law or serve as an important convenience to our residents, which include everything from dog licenses to filing fees to hunting and fishing licenses to landfill tickets to code enforcement to building permits.
The primary source of funding such services is the property tax, the most regressive form of taxation that is the most onerous. Just recently, the Syracuse newspaper ran a local story citing the property taxes in Madison County as one of the highest in the nation and the state as the highest in the country.
This year, we now more than ever must be frugal, cautious and hold the line on spending in many areas while trying to maintain the level of services. We have already experienced the first wave of this new reality, with our investment income being half in 2008 than it was in 2007, and 2009 figures to run even lower, while at the same time, we are utilizing our well developed reserves more than ever before.
In 2008, we had to draw down an additional $11,500 from the highway reserves, equal to nearly 2.5 percent of the annual property tax levy, to offset fuel costs, salt, sand and related highway inputs. The principal cost for this overage was the result of record fuel prices that did not drop until well after our construction season was winding down.