County of Ulster, NY
2023 Proposed Budget Analysis & Review
Status of Prior Recommendations (2021 & 2022)
Read CMA’s Printed Report
View 2023 Proposed Budget
During 2021, CMA was retained by the County to conduct a comprehensive review of the County 2022 Proposed Budget. A report was provided to the County in November 2022 which included both CMA’s findings and a number of initiatives and/or recommendations. As work commenced on the review of the 2023 Proposed Budget, CMA discovered that a number of the recommendations from the prior year had not yet been implemented or initiated.
The following recommended actions and initiatives remain open (along with the corresponding page numbers where the items may be found in CMA’s prior report):
Replace Payroll Checks with Electronic Deposits (CMA 2021 and 2022 Executive Budget Analysis and). This recommendation would reduce or eliminate the need to print and then manually distribute or mail checks on a regular basis. It is also estimated that the County could save between $2.50 and $10.00 per check, with potential savings of several hundred thousand dollars.
CMA Finding – Replace Payroll Checks with Electronic Deposits. CMA believes this recommendation is still valid and should be pursued by the County.
Explore External Shared Services Opportunities (CMA 2021 and 2022 Executive Budget Analysis and Review). Shared services between jurisdictions are outlined in New York State General Municipal Law and have been advocated for by the State and the State Comptroller’s Office. Records management, joint fuel facilities, and emergency service dispatch are just some of the areas where municipalities have collaborated to experience cost savings.
CMA Finding – Explore External Shared Services Opportunities. CMA believes the County should seek shared services opportunities by working with the State Comptroller’s Office in addition to contacting the purchasing and procurement staffs of other municipalities and researching contracts and bids that are allowed to be legally shared among jurisdictions.
Consolidation of the Central Garage and the Highway Garage (CMA 2021 and 2022 Executive Budget Analysis and Review). CMA estimated that consolidating these facilities could save the County $170,000 annually through space/lease savings and eliminating duplicative staff positions. CMA believes that this recommendation should be pursued by the County.
CMA Finding – Consolidation of Central Garage and the Highway Garage. CMA believes the recommendation for a consolidation of these facilities should still be further investigated by the County.
Contract an Energy Consultant (CMA 2021 and 2022 Executive Budget Analysis and Review). CMA recommended that the County consider contracting an energy consultant to evaluate potential cost savings in the operation of the County’s facilities. CMA noted that Suffolk County utilized such a consultant and realized savings of $600,000 (net of consultant fees). Organizations like the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (“NYSERDA”) offer assistance and financing for actions that promote advances in energy programs and technology.
CMA Finding – Energy Consultant. CMA strongly believes this recommendation should be pursued to take advantage of new and developing technologies that could produce substantial savings for the County as well as other grants and assistance that should be expected in the future. An RFP is presently pending for this purpose.
Fully Utilize the Skills of the Information Services/Technology Department (CMA 2021 and 2022 Executive Budget Analysis and Review). CMA found that the County’s Information Technology Department was skilled and could be utilized to automate functions that are currently manual in nature. CMA provided examples of potential cost savings and the need for technology to improve efficiencies at a time when reduced staffing may be the reality.
CMA Finding – Information Technology Utilization. CMA understands that the Information Technology Department has been utilized to implement COVID-19 protocols. This is a positive use of Information Technology staff. Once this function becomes less necessary, CMA believes the County should evaluate and pursue more efficient uses of these highly skilled staff members to explore the long-term conversion of manual tasks to automated ones.
Hiring Freeze to Control Expenditures (CMA 2021 and 2022 Executive Budget Analysis and Review). In its response to CMA, the County stated it has not implemented a hiring freeze.
CMA Finding – Hiring Freeze. CMA believed, and still does, that a freeze in hiring new staff (that would not increase overall staff size) is the most strategic option to appropriately control expenditures and reduce the risk of structurally unbalanced finances. Based on economic forecasts, this should be considered if necessary in 2023.
Centralization of Grant Oversight (CMA 2021 Executive Budget Analysis and Review). The County has not acted on CMA’s recommendation to explore centralizing grant oversight and monitoring of Countywide grant applications. In light of COVID relief funds, the American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) in particular, the need for a centralized grant operation and point person to monitor grant applications and outside assistance is important. In addition, a centralized grant operation and grants coordinator would also be responsible for monitoring and tracking State and Federal Aid. This was deemed extremely important since State and Federal Aid has ranged between $74 to $78 million in the County General Fund Budget over the past four years. Of note, such funds represent nearly 30% of all General Fund expenditures.
A centralized grant oversight function and grants coordinator is also extremely important within the context of the amount of funding available by the State of New York. Grant funding and other financial support is available from the State through agencies like the Department of Environmental Conservation, the State Department of State, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The centralized grant function could oversee the County’s participation in the New York State Consolidated Funding Application (“CFA”) process which provides access to hundreds of millions of dollars in State assistance and grants.
CMA Finding – Centralization of Grant Oversight. The centralized grant function would ensure the County has the opportunity to compete for all funding it qualifies for in the most efficient and timely manner. CMA believes the County should pursue the establishment of a centralized grant function with a grants coordinator.
Using Market Rates for the Hotel Tax and Motel Occupancy Tax (CMA 2021 and 2022 Executive Budget Analysis and Review). CMA found that the County’s hotel and motel occupancy tax rates are half the rate charged by other counties. Adjusting the rate to 4% to 4.5% market rate levels could generate an additional $2 million in annual revenue for the County. CMA believes this change, which is within the direct control of the County, would result in a significant increase in revenue.
CMA Finding – Occupancy Tax. CMA continues to strongly believes that occupancy and use taxes should be reviewed and adjusted by the County.
Adopt a Local Law to Allow Tax Levy Cap to be Exceeded (CMA 2021 and 2022 Executive Budget Analysis and Review). CMA recommended that the County Legislature should consider passing a local law that would authorize the State mandated tax levy cap to be exceeded if necessary.
CMA Finding – Tax Cap Legislation. Although the County has not pierced the cap to date, a local law would display the willingness of the County to take the actions necessary to adopt structurally balanced budgets moving forward. CMA continues to believe and recommend that the County Legislature consider adopting a local law to exceed the cap, if necessary.