County Ways and Means Committee passes budget amendments, eyes Verona FD fix

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Six amendments to the proposed 2018 Oneida County budget were passed unanimously by the Board of Legislators’ Ways and Means Committee Thursday as the spending plan moves toward final adoption next month.

Highlighting the modifications is the addition of a $250,000 allocation for the town of Verona, under the heading of “Planning — Economic Assistance and Opportunity.” The money is meant to address a festering controversy surrounding the county’s past $100,000 annual payment to the Verona Fire District.

The amendments do not change the overall budget number or the amount of money to be raised in property taxes — funds were moved among various accounts.

The total remains at $407.8 million in spending, an increase of of about $14 million over this year, while the tax levy remains the same as in 2017.

After County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. proposed slashing next year’s fire district allocation by half, to $50,000, the fire district and Legislator Michael J. Clancy, D-4, Verona, began lobbying to have the full $100,000 payment restored.

The money was an acknowledgement that the fire district, through the Verona Fire Department, provides fire and emergency medical coverage at the Oneida Indian Nation’s Turning Stone casino in the town.

The Oneidas do not pay property taxes, including for fire protection.

The county has been giving money to the fire district since 2014, when the Oneida Nation ended an earlier arrangement that paid the district $100,000 a year.

The tribe stopped the payment because of the casino revenue sharing agreement that was implemented in 2014.

The state receives a share of the Oneidas’ slot machine revenues and the county gets part of the state’s portion. The county’s payment to the fire district came from gaming revenue. It has come under fire from some legislators at budget time.

While not written down, it was the understanding and assumption among Ways & Means Committee members Thursday evening that Verona will make a payment to the fire district out of its new $250,000 as compensation for the lost county payment.

As part of the amendment, the $50,000 proposed by Picente for the fire district next year was cut.

Whether the town’s payment would be the full $100,000, something less or even zero is unknown. Verona Supervisor Scott M. Musacchio could not be reached this morning for comment.

County Legislator Clancy, who is not a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said he can get behind the amendment if the fire district is compensated by the town.

​“I don’t care where the fire department gets the money to protect citizens adequately,” he said today. If not the full $100,000, he’d like to see an amount that is higher than the $50,000 Picente initially proposed for 2018.

However, Clancy said there may be an issue over whether the town can channel money for the Verona Fire Department and not the other ones in the town.

The $250,000 for Verona comes from the $50,000 that the county executive earmarked for the fire district and $200,000 in reductions at the county airport.

The amendment eliminates $40,000 for a consultant and trims the automotive and other equipment accounts by a combined $160,000, for a $200,000 total. The airfield has been using a consultant as part of its ongoing effort to land scheduled passenger service at Griffiss International Airport.

The other amendments set aside $10,000 for the burial of indigent veterans, adjusted salary lines in departmental budgets to reflect recent changes, and changed three revenue lines in the district attorney’s budget.

All six amendments passed 10-0.

What’s next

Before county legislators adopt a 2018 budget, the public will have two chances to comment on the plan, as amended by Ways and Means. Public hearings are scheduled for Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. at the Rome Court House and Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. at the County Office Building in Utica.

Adoption is scheduled for the Nov. 8 board meeting. Additional amendments can be considered at this session before the final vote.

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