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Oneida County Legislature passes $360 million budget plan

By NICOLE HART

ONEIDA COUNTY, N.Y. (WKTV) - The $360 million budget plan was approved by Wednesday by the Oneida County Board of Legislators.

By a vote of 18 to 8, the legislature passed the 2012 operating budget, a budget that Chairman Gerald Fiorini was "the most difficult, undecided budget he has ever passed."

Even during the final vote on the floor Wednesday afternoon, there was still much debate as to whether or not the bill would even pass.

Legislator Chad Davis voted for the budget, but said that it certainly doesn't make anything definitive in the times ahead.

"I think we're still in an unknown zone," Davis said. "The state has promised us mandate relief. January does a lot of its work from January to April. We're hoping that Albany will do what it promised us, and in part, NYSAC, the New York State Association of Counties is proposing that New York State take back some of the Medicaid burden off the counties. If they were to shave just 1/8th of our burden, that would be just a little over $6 million for Oneida County, which would take care of all the problems and deferments we had to deal with this year."

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente introduced the budget back in October, which has since caused much controversy among both legislators and the public.

The passing of the budget means both a 2% tax cap, as well as layoffs.

Legislator Michael Hennessy voted against the budget, saying it wasn't an easy decision for anyone to make.

"I see reasons that we're not being honest with the public with our budget, so that concerned me," Hennessy said. "others are blaming the state, they're torn about the mandates. I've been here six years and every year it's the same argument made about the state needing to do mandate relief. We can't wait for mandate relief. We have a $360 million budget we're responsible for. Let us do our jobs instead of blaming others."

The first round of county layoffs will happen January 1, 2012, followed by a second round come July 1.

Also in July, the libraries and some of the programs or services provided at the public health clinic will lose funding because of the passage of the budget.

Officials say that if the state offers some level of mandate relief before then, the cuts would be reconsidered.

Because some of the legislators or "department heads" have a pay freeze next year, some jobs were allowed to remain.

"I don't know how what we do in six months, is done in six months," Fiorini said.

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