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County urges state to provide mandate relief

    WATKINS GLEN—While in the midst of preparing the county's 2012 budget, the Schuyler County Legislature passed a resolution, at a meeting held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, urging New York State to provide promised mandate relief to counteract the newly imposed property tax cap. Chairman Dennis Fagan explained “when [New York State] passed the property tax cap, they promised mandate relief and substantial relief has not been forthcoming.”  
    The legislative resolution requests that New York State take over the local share of medicaid.  Each county in New York is required to pay a portion of the medicaid costs for their residents who utilize the program. According to the resolution, the local medicaid share costs counties across the state $7.3 billion each year.  The legislature feels that by implementing a multi-year takeover of this local share, the State will see lower property taxes, enhanced competitiveness and improved economic opportunities for all New Yorkers.
    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the issue on Oct. 6 by stating New York State does not have the money to subsidize the counties.  Fagan called those comments “unfortunate” and explained “[New York State] controls all of the rules and regulations and expects [the counties] to pay when they have no control over it.” Medicaid makes up a substantial part of the Schuyler County budget each year and the county is facing considerable budget constraints against the newly adopted property tax cap.
    A draft budget has been completed and is expected to be posted on the county's website for the public to review.  Fagan stressed that this is a preliminary budget as prepared by department heads and has yet to incorporate legislative input.  
    In other business:
    • Legislative candidate Mark Rondinaro spoke at the Oct. 11 meeting and also at the legislative resolution review committee meeting regarding the voting districts and the local law that controls the election of legislators. Rondinaro claims that the current law, which provides representation by town, is confusing and possibly unconstitutional.  He says that the current system allows for scenarios where the lowest vote getter in a given district could be elected to the legislature based on town residence.  Rondinaro added that the number of residents represented by a legislator varies greatly for each town and district.  Legislator Barbara Halpin agreed that the law was confusing and should be examined.  The issue was referred to the planning department for recommendation.
    • Schuyler County will be seeking a new historian.  Current historian Barbara Bell will be retiring after taking over the position in 1980.  She had previously been the Reading historian since 1960 and will leave her post as the longest serving municipal historian in New York history.
    • The legislature approved a transfer of $20,000 to the public defender's office to pay assigned counsel fees.  Income eligible residents are able to receive free legal counsel from the public defender's office for criminal and family court cases.  Because of the increase in cases in 2011, the office needed additional funds to help pay for these legal services.
    • Residents appeared before the legislature to express their views on the proposed Inergy liquid petroleum gas storage facility in Reading.  Elaine Mansfield said that she was “very concerned that [Inergy] has big things in mind,” and was hoping her local government would protect residents from those changes.  Paul Marcellus spoke in favor of the facility and said “if the project is adequately engineered it won't be an eyesore,” and that “the traffic will mostly be in the winter.” Joseph Campbell of Gas Free Seneca also spoke, urging the legislature to submit a public comment requesting that a quantitative risk assessment be completed by Inergy.  When asked if he was aware if other storage facilities commissioned QRAs, Campbell responded that he did not know.
    Chariman Fagan spoke on the issue at both the resolution review committee and regular meeting.  He expressed his opinion that most of the concerns raised about the facility were “alarmist, not realistic.” He went on to describe his visit to Inergy's Savona facility, which is similar to the proposed Reading facility.  During this visit, he learned that the facility had many safety features that would be replicated at the Reading location.  Fagan also explained that he did not see how the proposed facility would have an impact on tourism and that his initial concerns with the brine pond engineering had been addressed by Inergy and were now state of the art.
    The next meeting of the Schuyler County Legislature is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the county building.


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