By AMANDA FRIES
GateHouse New York
HERKIMER — “Once again business is way up. … And it’s not showing any signs of slowing down.”
That’s how Ed Scudder, director of the Herkimer County Office of Mental Health and Chemical Dependency Services, introduced his proposed budget for the county’s Office of Mental Health during the county Legislature’s Committee on Ways and Means budget meeting Friday morning.
An influx of patients caused next year’s budget to increase from $3.16 million in 2013 to a proposed $3.26 million in 2014, county Administrator James Wallace said.
“It’s increased the number of hours for our psychiatrists,” he said.
While department heads typically would present a budget to the committee, this year, Wallace and county Budget Officer Bernie Decker sat down with each department head to go through the budget prior to presenting it.
Scudder was one of several department heads that presented a budget proposal to the committee Friday, a process that will continue for several weeks until the budget vote in November.
“We’re just scrutinizing the budget like we always do with a whole lot of eyes,” Chairman of the Legislature Vincent Bono, R-Schuyler, said.
As the proposed budgets are drawn up, county officials said all avenues are being looked at to see where cuts and consolidation can be made. The total 2013 budget came in at $96.4 million.
Next year’s figure hasn’t been released. Right now, Wallace said the total proposed 2014 budget carries a 3.7 percent increase, which they’re working to get under the two percent tax cap.
“Everything from employees to department programs to vehicles,” Bono said. “Soup to nuts is what we’re looking at, and it’s a work in progress.”
Wallace said they’re also trying to take a look at areas where privatization makes sense.
“We’re looking at three or four departments where that might be possible,” he said, but wouldn’t say which.
In 2011, Herkimer County made strides to privatize its Certified Home Health Agency, and Bassett Healthcare Network Inc: At Home Care took over the service.
Through this privatization, the county laid off 18 employees, saving about $320,000 in salaries and benefits in the first year.
It was projected that in 2012, the county would save $480,000 from the privatization.
Overall, Bono said the county will continue its “fiscally conservative views” with regard to the budget.
“We live within our means. It’s a low-frills county,” he said. “We take care of what we have.”