State, local leaders hash out state budget, Medicaid, unfunded mandates, lake water quality issues, and more during annual visit with legislature.
State Sen. Tom O’Mara says relief from growing local Medicaid costs may be in the future, but he warns county lawmakers to not count on the help too soon. When O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano spent 90 minutes with members of the Yates County Legislature Feb. 26, he said the Senate leadership has signaled that it’s time for the state to take on the local share of Medicaid costs, providing relief. But, he said, “It’s not going to happen this year. It would be huge to be able to do that.”
O’Mara and Palmesano reviewed their projections for upcoming state budget discussions in Albany and county lawmakers peppered them with questions about issues that impact the county and other local municipalities during the two representatives’ annual visit.
The two Republicans shared their concerns about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget, outlining some of their priorities, which included:
• Hazardous Algae Blooms (HABs): “This is a huge issue for this county,” said Legislator Timothy Dennis of Potter, pointing out that the Yates County Legislature was the first to protest a state decision to study 12 lakes around the state without including Seneca, Keuka or Canandaigua Lakes in the program. O’Mara, saying he’s very interested in this issue, said he could get no real explanation from Department of Environmental Conservation representatives concerning why Seneca Lake, in particular, was not included. But he noted the groups working on the studies are working very quickly on their plans, and while Cuomo announced $55 million in funds to be dedicated to the problem, that is not “new” money. O’Mara says he has requested that the water study teams reach out to local lake groups such as Seneca Lake Pure Waters, Finger Lakes Institute, and Keuka Lake Association.
The HAB topic led to another discussion about water quality that sparked a charged response from Legislator Dan Banach. O’Mara said he has been contacted by Seneca Lake residents from the Town of Torrey who have raised concerns about the quality of water flowing from the Keuka Lake Outlet. Banach, a legislator from Milo, is also a member of the Penn Yan Village Municipal Utilities Board. He explained the village has solved the problem that led to a large spill of wastewater from the village’s sewage treatment plant into the outlet last August. “We are improving it every day. We are doing everything we have been told we need to do. We’re putting out better water. He had one spill in 60 years — a human error,” he said. O’Mara said he is just trying to get a handle on the issue.
• HIGHWAY FUNDS: Palmesano says the CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program) funding is one of his priorities. “This is money that helps save the property taxpayer,” he said. Next week around 700 highway superintendents from all over New York State will visit Albany to remind lawmakers how important the funds are. He and O’Mara are looking to restore $65 million in funds to the 2019 budget.
• STATE SPENDING: O’Mara said after the best year ever on Wall Street, the state should be getting some additional tax revenues. “It just flies in the face to say there’s a $4 Billion deficit,” and later added, “We don’t have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.”
Yates County legislators comments on:
• Unfunded Mandates, such as the state’s requirement that district attorneys be paid the same amount as county judges without state funding of the additional salary.
• Agricultural spending cuts: Reminding the state representatives of the extreme stress that dairy farmers are under, Dennis called the cuts, which are made annually in the governor’s budget, “an insult to the state’s biggest industry.”
• Gaming Revenue: When asked about the status of revenue from the Seneca Nation and Del Lago Casinos, O’Mara said he has been working with Yates County Treasurer Winona Flynn, and he has introduced legislation that would add a portion of Yates County to the area that receives revenue from the Del Lago Casino.