Legislators share mandate concerns
PENN YAN—Yates County Legislators met with State Sen. Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano at an informal roundtable meeting Saturday, March 19. Yates County Legislature Chairman Taylor Fitch said, “This is an opportunity for insight on the New York State budget.”
O’Mara began with some good news, telling legislators the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding is agreed upon and the level will be the same as the past three years.
Shifting to mandates, O’Mara said whatever is chosen will be funded by the state or eliminated. Palmesano would like to see unfunded mandates significantly cut.
Palmesano said work is being done to get the budget in on time. He said if there is no budget, the emergency appropriation bill will kick in. He said there is a great deal of pressure to it in on time. Legislator Tim Dennis questioned O’Mara and Palmesano; “If an acceptable budget is submitted, but a tax cap is included, how would you vote?” O’Mara answered, “A lot of politics are involved in it. I’m not prepared today to say I’d vote yea or no.” Palmesano echoed O’Mara’s comment about how he would vote.
Legislator and past legislature chairman Robert Multer outlined absolute mandates and those with minimum flexibility. Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy said 88 percent of county property taxes went to state mandate issues in 2010. She said the county legislature is looking at programs that might have to go. Purdy used the Yates County Home Health Agency as an example. Selling the home health agency would be a huge hit to residents. Purdy said, “With the tax cap looming we have to look at that.”
Dennis added, “If we do lose our license to be the sole provider, a private property can come in and pick off the easy cases. Yates County may still have to provide the services.”
The sheriff’s marine patrol was another concern. Sheriff Ron Spike commented Yates County has not yet received a $37,000 payment for 2009 that is outstanding from the state. Funding of the marine patrol program comes from registration fees paid by boat owners. Fitch said, “I call it confiscation of funds allocated. It is not right and not fair. You confiscate fees and don’t distribute the way that was originally intended.”
Fitch said his another concern is pensions. He asked why they couldn’t be frozen at the 2010 level until the economy comes back up.
Purdy told the state representatives the property tax cap is impossible for this county. O’Mara said mandate relief will be very hard to get through the Assembly. Legislator Douglas Paddock said, “The pressure will come on the counties and schools. There is no incentive for the state. Once something is enacted if is awful hard to change.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Fitch read a prepared statement. It said, in part, “Our government in New York State was set up to be a partnership between the state and county governments to provide services to our people in New York State. I believe this partnership has fallen apart. New York State has instead become autocratic, telling counties what they have to do by the use of mandates. New York State then changes the funding stream they had set aside for mandates, leaving the counties responsible for the shortfall. When you give funding for a mandate and then take it away but leave the mandate, you are putting costs on the backs of our property owners. This is unacceptable and must be changed. By our county spending all our property tax dollars on your New York State mandates, it leaves little, if any, for Yates County programs that are important to our quality of life and economic growth.”