State legislators discuss mandate relief, gun law
YATES COUNTY—The Yates County Legislature held a special meeting Saturday, March 9 and asked State Sen. Tom O’Mara (R, C—Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R, C, I—Corning) questions regarding state mandates and what sort of relief is coming to Yates County in the near future.
One of the most asked questions regarded what Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature is planning to do to reimburse local governments when it comes to the rising costs of unfunded mandates—specifically, those mandates regarding pensions, community college support and the Department of Social Services (DSS). County Administrator Sarah Purdy said those three areas combined with untimely reimbursement from the state were the main reasons Yates County had an “ugly budget,” which saw a 14.7 tax levy increase in 2013.
“The length of time reimbursements are held up is totally irresponsible,” Purdy said.
O’Mara said the state legislature is doing what it can to help facilitate timely reimbursements as much as possible, saying “mandate relief is a priority for the two of us sitting here and many of my colleagues.” He said the function of the payments being made is a function of the executive branch, and they will work to do what they can to alleviate the pressure they put on county governments.
Palmesano said pension costs are crippling and the state needs to get as much help as they can on the issue. Yates Legislator Mark Morris said he also had concerns with the district attorney’s salary, saying the state needs to start differentiating between urban and rural areas.
O’Mara and Palmesano agreed, saying the state has a “one size fits all” mentality in both policy and salary, and that they do not see any long-term commitments by the state to change policy to better suit the areas it affects.
Another main focus of discussion was the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act, which both legislators said they had voted against. O’Mara said while it is receiving a lot of pushback, an outright appeal is unlikely. He said he had the opportunity to attend the Second Amendment rally in Albany Thursday, Feb. 28, saying it was one of the largest he has seen in the nine years he has been there.
“Unfortunately our governor was not interested in doing it right, he was interested in doing it first,” Palmesano said. “One minute we heard there would be no cost to counties, then we heard there were lots of ramifications from this legislation. I would certainly support an outright appeal. I think the governor miscalculated the kind of pushback we would get from this.”
Industrial development agencies (IDA) were also discussed during the meeting, with O’Mara saying the state is losing its ability to incentivize economic development in New York.
“The governor’s excelsior project has proven to be ineffective,” O’Mara said. He said to further hamstring local IDAs is something he is strongly opposed to, and he is hopeful his proposal of payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) exemptions under tax cap will allow the increase from year to year to be taken out of the county’s cap. He said this will treat growth and PILOT payments similar to full growth exemptions and not eat into the county’s already limited cap.
Palmesano said the governor is talking about eliminating small business assistance and puttting decisions off to regional economic development councils. He said the concept of them is a good thing, but they only account for 20 percent of the decisions, with 80 percent still being made in Albany. Palmesano said the IDA’s official sole focus is to grow the local economy and it is better when it is done at a local level.
Palmesano addressed the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIP), saying local governments are struggling to find funding for highway programs. He and O’Mara said the governor’s budget has a $300 million increase in the N.Y. Works program, but it does not yet spell out how much is going to the CHIPs program. They both said they will be supporting taking $100 million out of the governor’s proposal and putting it back into the CHIPs fund. Palmesano said 87 percent of roads in the state and 52 percent of bridges are local, and “this is an opportunity to increase that funding once and for all.”
Both state legislators also expressed their disapproval with a proposed measure to allow early voting up to 14 days in advance during elections. Palmesano said it would amount to nothing more than another unfunded mandate the state pushes onto the county. Yates Chairman Taylor Fitch said he has no idea how the county would be able to afford running polling locations for such a long period of time, saying they have a hard time staffing them on current election nights.