County budget proposal painful but necessary

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There is little doubt that the $434.1 million spending plan proposed by Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. yesterday is painful.

The pandemic-influenced proposal would decrease county spending by roughly $5 million, would leave dozens of positions unfilled, reduce support for libraries by half, reduce support for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County, trim funding for Mohawk Valley EDGE as well as reduce discretionary spending over just about every facet of county operations. During the year, circumstances may call for revising these reductions upward.

However, difficult this budget is — and it is bleak and will undoubtedly impact a wide swath of residents across our region — is necessary, and ultimately, will benefit our region.

We appreciate the difficult decisions Picente and his budget personnel made. Certainly, he could have chosen a politically easier path, raising taxes or dipping further into the county’s budget reserves. But it is a path we clearly cannot afford.

The proposal that Picente delivered to the Board of Legislators on Thursday does reduce spending and aid, but it does not include employee layoffs.

It does not raise property taxes — which is essential if we are to retain our residents and existing businesses and put us in position to continue to develop economically.

Under the plan, the county would withhold money from its estimated $16 million share of Oneida Indian Nation gaming revenue from towns, villages and cities, though not from the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill school district. How important now is that partnership between the county and the Oneida Nation?

“We have been aggressive and effective, but this virus is relentless,” Picente said as he unveiled this spending plan. “The fight against this virus has cost this government over $10 million and counting. We have more responsibilities and more costs, and when faced with crisis, county government is open every single day to deal with the public health and safety of this community.”

The budget now is in the hands of the Board of Legislators, who will hold a public hearing on it, and consider it among its committees. A vote on it is scheduled for the board’s Dec. 2 meeting.

As the county executive demonstrated, leadership requires not just the willingness to make difficult decisions but the willingness to take a variety of viewpoints and often competing concerns into consideration.

We consider this proposal painful but prudent, but whether you agree or disagree we encourage you to contact your legislator with your perspective. You can find contact information for all of the county legislators at https://www.ocgov.net//leg.

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