Local Ag, arts programs facing biggest cuts in years

By Erika Mahoney

Local Ag, arts programs facing biggest cuts in years

October 11, 2013 Updated Oct 11, 2013 at 12:25 AM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton)  Fewer people stayed in Broome County's hotels last year, which means less money for local coffers, and possibly less money for local arts and agriculture.

Agencies like the Broome County Arts Council and the Cornell Cooperative Extension are facing some of the biggest cuts they've seen in years county Executive Debbie Preston's 2014 budget proposal.

The financial support for these agencies was put on the chopping block in September.

Preston said the county's hotel-motel tax is projected to drop by $400,000, from $1.9 million to $1.5 million. That tax is a primary funding source for the agencies.

Instead of having residents make up the difference through a property tax increase, Preston proposed an 18 percent cut to each of the agencies.

For the Cornell Cooperative Extension, that totals more than $52,000 cut to their budget.

Bill Olin, the director of the Broome County Farm Bureau, took to the podium to express his concerns about the cuts to CCE. He was one of about 10 people to do so.

"The amount of funding from Broome County has been significantly reduced over the past years," Olin said. "At some point, the ability of an organization to exist will be called into question. I think we are at that point now."

Judi Whittaker, a dairy farmer in Whitney Point, said CCE's support to local farmers is vital. She also pointed out the cut is bigger than face value because the organization could also lose matching grant funding.

"As you're looking through the budget ... if you could find a way to continue the funding," Whittaker said. "What the extension is facing is almost $65,000 thousand dollars worth of cuts between what would happen if it goes through your budget and what's been leveraged from other grants. That's a lot of money for a group like that to handle and it would mean more cuts."

A number of people, including a teen, spoke in support of 4-H, part of CCE.

Serena Harrington, 15, spoke about how 4-H helped her overcome her social anxiety.

"I've heard countless stories of kids with depression and social anxiety, who don't know where they are going in life, and 4-H has helped them get back on track," Harrington said. "And honestly, I don't know if I would be here today without 4-H."

The Broome County Arts Council faces more than $15,000 in cuts.

"The arts matter," said Naima Kradjian, CEO of The Goodwill Theatre. "They go beyond being fluff, they go beyond being icing on the cake. They are actually the yeast that makes the bread rise in a community."

After the public hearing, Chairman Jerry Marinich said he expected this type of feedback.

"It doesn't surprise me because the contract agencies, they're the ones that took the biggest hit in the executive's budget," Marinich said.

In addition to the proposed cuts, others brought other topics to the podium. A number of people urged legislators to keep Willow Point Nursing Home and the Broome County Transit System in the county's hands.

The privatizations of these two county agencies are not part of Preston's budget proposal, but the county has been exploring how selling them could affect the bottom line.

The budget must be adopted by the end of November.

Click here for a schedule of the meetings leading up to the final vote on the budget.

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