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How cheap gas (and other things) led to a hiring freeze in Otsego County

J. Stephen Conn
Main Street in Cooperstown, NY, the Otsego County seat.

Otsego County has enacted a hiring freeze for all workers except for those at the county correctional facility as a way to address what officials say is a budget shortfall of almost $4.7 million.

Otsego County Treasurer Dan Crowell says there are three main reasons for the county's budget problems.

Reason one: sales tax revenues are down because gasoline prices are down.

"It’s great for the community and the consumer that it’s gone down, but it has also affected the sales tax that we generate," Crowell said.

Crowell sees gas prices and sales tax money staying flat, for a while at least. 

Reason two for the budget shortfall: New York state.

"Counties are operational wings in terms of social services for the state of New York," Crowell said. "We do work for them, and then they reimburse us, to varying degrees, depending on the type of program." Crowell said the state is taking some money back for services paid in 2011 and 2012. To accommodate the change, Otsego County is lowering its state payment projections for next year. 

Reason three Crowell gives for Otsego’s budget shortfall: the county is finishing a big emergency communications project.

The county plans to reduce payroll through attrition to save money this year and next. A spending freeze is also in place. The county correctional facility is the only department that doesn't have to heed the hiring freeze; Crowell said there are mandated minimum staffing levels at the facility.

Otsego County workers have been working under an expired labor agreement since January, 2012. An official with the union, CSEA, declined to comment for this story.