State budget cuts ‘gut’ local programs say legislators

Gwen Chamberlain

The funding cut that would beach the Yates County Marine Patrol isn’t the only concern county legislators have over the proposed executive budget.

According to District II Legislator Timothy Dennis, who is chairman of the legislature’s finance committee, information he learned last week at a New York State Association of Counties leads him to believe state leaders will adopt a property tax cap, but they will not address mandate relief.

Reporting on the sessions he attended, Dennis said he sees the state government forcing the gutting of optional programs and services at the county level.

County Administrator Sarah Purdy also attended the conference and said she came away from the sessions believing the governor will force municipalities and school districts to spend down fund balances.

But that could put the county in a cash flow dilemma, she said. Purdy says she believes the governor will force municipalities and schools to spend down the fund balances before any mandate relief is enacted. “Then we’ll move forward,” she said.

Legislative Chairman Taylor Fitch said the fund balance is extremely important. “We need to have it to pay bills until New York State pays us.”

Purdy said the county typically needs a fund balance of $5 million on hand to cover the costs of the county.

“I think we’ve got a pretty rough road ahead of us here,” she told the  county legislature’s finance committee on Feb. 4. She met with 13 of the 14 legislators to report on her initial  interpretation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state budget.

Purdy is urging the legislators to make some fundamental choices that she can incorporate into the budget process.

She said she’s concerned about the timing of the budgets. If the state budget is not passed on its April 1 deadline, and is delayed until the summer, the county will have lost opportunities to make adjustments during this budget year before the impact of major cuts are enacted.

While specific cuts in programs and employees were not discussed, strategies for addressing open positions by transferring employees between departments were.

“I’m not confident we can stay within the tax cap and provide services. I hope I’m wrong,” Purdy told the legislators, adding that decisions will need to be made before summer.

“Looking at the math, it’s not adding up that they can continue the mandates, let alone other services,” she said.

Purdy said unless the legislators direct her to do otherwise, she will prepare a budget based on the assumption that there will be a property tax cap.

Legislative Chairman Taylor Fitch said he feels the county should prepare for the worst case scenario. “We have to see what the worst picture is,” he said.

Here are some of the areas elected officials will need to ponder:

• Marine Patrols

• Public Health services - Purdy sees deep cuts in optional services that have become core public health services in Yates County, and she said she’s concerned people will end up in the hospital as a result of the cuts.

• Community Services such as early intervention coordination.

• Health care and pension increases Purdy estimates will go up by $500,000.

To help get a more clear picture of the situation, Purdy will revise the budget presentation from last fall for this year’s budget, based on expectations from the executive budget. She will present that report on to the legislators in March.