When Yates County Legislators meet with State Sen. Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano each year about this time, they try to find new ways to share the perspective of local government officials, and often, the message they deliver sounds repetitive. This year, the message sounded a bit more dire.
“Are we the state’s partner or are we the state’s servant?” asked Legislative Chairman Dr. Timothy Dennis as he closed the 90 minute meeting Feb. 27.
Opening the meeting with the two state lawmakers, Dennis said, “I’ve always considered county government to be a partnership with the state. We do not feel like a partner anymore... We feel more like a humble servant of the state instead of partners.”
The primary concern from legislators revolved around Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal for a countywide shared services plan.
In January, Cuomo introduced a requirment for county officials to develop a localized plan that will find real, recurring property tax savings by coordinating and eliminating duplicative services and proposing coordinated services with other municipalities within the county. The proposal would be presented as a referendum to voters at the November general election. If voters reject the plan, the administrator must prepare a new plan for 2018.
“This is nibbling at the edges of the county property tax and is, I believe, an effort on the part of the governor to divert attention from the real major contributor to county property taxes — state mandates,” noted Legislator Douglas Paddock (District I, Jerusalem) in his prepared comments.
With no state funding attached to the requirement, and it will call for the use of local resources, it is another unfunded mandate, said Paddock. “This proposal needs to be stopped dead in its tracks,” he said.
The county lawmakers prepared many questions and comments for O’Mara and Palmesano, raising concerns about a number of Cuomo’s initiatives, such as:
• Cuomo’s veto of state takeover of indigent legal defense;
• Collecting sales tax on internet purchases;
• The governor’s proposal to provide free tuition for state colleges. “The state already does not hold up its end of the community college tuition, so from where will the money for this program come and what effect will it have on the charge back to counties?” asked Paddock in his prepared comments.
• Raise the age legislation which would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 17 for probation departments on Jan. 1, 2019 and to 18 on Jan. 1, 2020. The plan initially called for the cost to be picked up by the state, but it has since been adjusted so only partial reimbursement will be available for some counties, said District IV Legislator Bill Holgate, chairman of the public safety committee.
• Multiple human service issues were reviewed by Legislator Leslie Church (District 3), who is chair of the Human Services committee. O’Mara and Palmesano agreed the future of Medicaid is not clear with ongoing concerns about the Affordable Care Act. O’Mara said officials are unsure what the impact will be on the counties.
Gov. Cuomo estimates that more than 2,500 Yates County residents health care and insurance could be at risk if the ACA is repealed.
O’Mara and Palmesano said they have stayed in contact with Congressman Reed regarding the ACA.
District 4 Legislator James Multer asked questions about election laws, in particular suggesting that primary elections for federal, state, and local races be consolidated. O’Mara said Democratic state lawmakers are not likely to support changing the state primary date from earlier in the year because for downstate Democrats, those primaries generally determine the final election outcome. That leaves the party the rest of the campaign season to concentrate on winning new seats. “It’s all politics,” said O’Mara.
District 3 Legislator Dan Banach asked about help with invasive species and District 1 legislator Ed Bronson pointed out inconsistencies in funding for Universal Pre-K programs.
Wrapping up the session, District 1 Legislator Taylor Fitch asked if the pair could recommend one issue on which to focus.
“Every one you mentioned is extremely important... I don’t think you can limit it to just one. I think you should have two or three top priorities,” said O’Mara.