UTICA, N.Y. -- For the first time since March 11, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, Jr., welcomed county legislators for an in-person weekly meeting in the legislative chambers, in the county office building.
It wasn't a joyous reunion, but rather, a somber conversation about the extent to which the coronavirus pandemic ravaged Oneida County's finances, and, the dire steps that must be taken toward recovery. Come fall, the conversation could turn to something the count hasn't had to do in nearly 30 years, since 1992.
"Yeah, borrowing money to pay your bills, that's the worst thing to do. It's the worst thing to do on a personal level, it's the worst thing to do on a governmental level," said Picente.
The county is also offering early retirement incentive to employees age 55 and older, who've been with the county at least 10 years. That involves a $17,500 payoff. Roughly 130 people are eligible. Picente is also asking for a 15% across-the-board reduction in the county's 2021 budget. He says sales tax is down $3.1 million, and the best case scenario is that Oneida Nation revenue won't be down more than $7 million. Picente says raising property taxes is not the most attractive option, especially in this climate.
"The worst time to raise taxes is when you have so many hundreds of people out of work. The question becomes, whether you raise taxes or not, how many taxes are not gonna get paid next year? How many business that have closed this year or remain closed or are even struggling now to pick up, are gonna pay their taxes next year?" asked Picente. "To raise it to what we need, the numbers I talked about, you'd be talking about a 20% tax hike. That's something we're not gonna do."