The city’s best shot for a workable budget without major service cuts could come from County Executive Mike Hein and his promised — but still secret — plan to address Safety Net costs. Kingston bears an unequal burden of payments for the welfare program because of Ulster County’s unique practice of passing costs on to the municipalities in which recipients live. Kingston officials have long lobbied for the county to assume the Safety Net burden, thereby spreading out the cost evenly among communities. But the effort has been repeatedly stifled by county lawmakers from towns with few Safety Net recipients, whose constituents would pay more in county taxes under such a plan. Hein has promised to include changes to Safety Net funding in his own 2013 budget. But it remains unclear what his solution would be and what, if any, cost savings for Kingston would result.
Where’s the override button?
If city lawmakers vote to override the tax cap, they would not be alone. Last year 300 of New York’s roughly 1,600 local governments voted to break the tax cap (far fewer school districts, which need a 60 percent majority of voters, managed to override the cap). But Senor, who is backing a merger of county and city bus lines that, he said, will save Kingston$250,000, said that he would be reluctant to override the tax cap whether or not the state follows through with mandate reform.
“The people want government to start being more responsible and this was Albany’s way of doing that,” said Senor. “I’m not looking to override the tax cap. I’m looking for ways that we can be more business-oriented.”
Council Minority Leader Deborah Brown (R-Ward 9), meanwhile, sounded less confident. Brown pointed out that city departments were already bare-bones operations and conceded that it may simply not be possible to maintain essential services while remaining within the 2 percent cap.
“How far can you cut departments and still have basic services that the city needs?” she asked. “We’ll work for [a budget beneath the tax cap] I’m hoping we can do it. But never say never.”