By Debra J. Groom
As we count down to the beginning of 2014 on Wednesday, there are some important issues to keep an eye on in Oswego County this coming year.
County Administrator Philip Church said one big issue is the ongoing assessment negotiations with companies owning the county’s three nuclear plants.
The tax agreement between the county, the Oswego school distirct and Scriba and Constellation Nuclear Energy Group for Nine Mile Point One and Two expires in 2014.
The county, Scriba and the Mexico school district’s negotiations for a tax agreement with Entergy for its James FitzPatrick Nuclear Plant are ongoing.
“These two revenue matters, combined with increasing costs from state and federal mandates, will be driving factors in the development of the 2015 budget and impact the Legislature’s decision-making about the services the county provides,” Church said.
“Throughout the year, the Legislature and departments will take a critical look at programs and contracted services to identify priorities and find cost-savings and efficiencies,” he said.
Also in 2014, the county will move forward with demolition of the former jail, and will decide the future of the property, Church said.
The Route 2A bridge over the Salmon River will undergo significant repair and reconstruction.
The grant-funded repair of the Camp Zerbe lodge will be completed, providing the eastern end of the county with facility that can be utilized for recreation, tourism, family activities and business events.
“And the county is also researching the installation of a fiber-optic network that could be built out to provide high speed Internet connectivity to enhance small business growth,” Church said.
Church also said the county will continue its enhanced efforts to investigate and prosecute drug crime and public assistance fraud.
In January, the county Legislature will reorganize, electing a chairman and vice chairman, and new standing committees will be established by the chairman.
Legislature Minority Leader Michael Kunzwiler, D-Oswego, said the county’s budget and finances are the primary issue for 2014.
His concern, which he voiced numerous times during the 2014 county budget deliberations, was the county is not planning far enough into the future concerning its finances and does not begin the budget p[rocess early enough in the year.
““We are not doing real budgeting, we are not looking at the future,” he said this week.
“Right out of the box, we should get with Phil (Church), get together with Kevin (Gardner, legislature chairman) and discuss the budget,” Kunzwiler said. “We should have a staffing study to look at our numbers. We should look at where we are retirement-wise.”
“This is called doing the right thing,” he said. “We have to embrace change or we’re going down the toilet.”
He also said the county was wrong for the past few years to always try to put together a budget with no tax increase.
This was a problem mentioned recently in the city of Oswego’s budget negotiations — the city had not raised taxes for many years and them this year was hit with a huge increase.
Kunzwiler believes the same thing could happen in the county.
He said the county in the past few years should have raised taxes 1 percent each year and cut more spending each year to keep the budget manageable.