COOPERSTOWN, NY (WSKG) — Otsego County is receiving $11.6 million in federal aid through the American Rescue Plan (ARP).
Otsego County Board Chairman David Bliss said that money makes a big difference, but it doesn’t cover the extent of the county’s losses. He spoke alongside U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado (NY-19) and state lawmakers on Thursday.
Bliss said the county budget was in a good place before the pandemic, but sales tax is the county’s largest funding source. It accounts for roughly 35 percent of its overall budget.
When tourism to Cooperstown, and other parts of the county fell, Otsego saw a loss of close to $4 million.
“When our sales tax is cut by that much it affects us, when other counties weren’t nearly as affected because the majority of their revenue comes from tax revenue, not sales tax or bed tax or these other funding sources,” Bliss explained.
The county board chairman was joined by Delgado, State Sen. Peter Oberacker (R-51) and Assemblyman Chris Tague (R-102).
Bliss and others thanked Delgado for his efforts to get federal money to the area. More than $400 million will go to counties and municipalities in the 19th Congressional District.
Bliss said the county is slowly recovering from the loss in sales tax, and a review from the Office of the State Comptroller found that county officials “adequately assessed” the impact of the pandemic on financial operations in its 2021 adopted budget.
The county had to lay off nearly 60 positions, largely in the highway department and in social services. A little more than half have come back, but Bliss said around 25 positions have yet to be rehired.
To eliminate costs, the county cut funding for $2 million in highway improvement projects and a new fire training center.
Bliss said he would like to refund those projects, but added that the ARP aid may be better suited for supporting mental health initiatives.
“The stress that this pandemic has put on families, and the police—the police reform plans and things like that—we want to strengthen our mental health department and mental health capabilities so we can address those concerns,” Bliss said. “Hopefully, that, in the long run, will save us money elsewhere.”
The county spent roughly $100,000 on pandemic personal protective equipment and $50,000 on laptops for employees working remotely.