Onondaga County's balancing act

Ways and Means Committee cut $45.5 million from the budget, but the 'hows and whys' worry Mahoney and Walsh

— The Onondaga County Ways and Means Committee had a $50 million gap to fill in the 2011 county budget, but the solutions they've recommended to the full Legislature – representing more than 60 changes to County Executive Joanie Mahoney's proposed budget – have been scrutinized for a lack of long-term foresight.

Mahoney's $1.2 billion budget, released mid-September, represented a 2.7 percent property tax decrease and dropped the county tax levy $3 million.

When the Ways and Means committee, chaired by Casey Jordan, 14th-R, presented its list of proposed changes on Thursday Sept. 30, the committee recommended about $45 million in adjustments through a combination of funding cuts, eliminated positions, and controversial decisions like selling the Onondaga County Sheriff's Department's helicopter.

But some – Mahoney and the sheriff's department, for starters – have voiced concerns over how and where the committee found $45 million to slash from the budget, saying that the recommendations provide only quick fixes, at best, and at worst would jeopardize county residents' safety.

The changes

Mahoney said the committee did manage to find $5 million in "real" savings, mostly by cutting funding to arts and cultural programs and events, like eliminating county funding to RedHouse.

"Those are things the community is going to have to debate and decide on," Mahoney said.

The committee also recommended the county close Pratt's Falls County Park and eliminate the four employee positions there, in the hopes that it would be taken over by the town of Pompey.

Jordan said the committee was also able to reduce the costs of employee benefits and pensions, thanks to early retirement of many employees.

But the rest of the cuts -- "the vast majority," said Mahoney -- were the result of "gimmicks" and raiding savings accounts.

Roughly $12 million of the savings the committee found would be pulled from fund balances, Mahoney said.

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