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Gwen Chamberlain
Yates County Absolute Mandates in 2011

A recent Quinnipiac University poll revealed that eight out of 10 New York voters continue to support plans for a property tax cap. In another poll, 46 percent of the voters said the tax cap should be the state government's top priority.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed limiting tax increases to the rate of inflation or 2 percent per year, whichever is smaller. (2 Percent of the 2011 Yates County tax levy equals $248,492).

But local elected officials say compliance with a property tax cap is going to be a burden that will require the sacrifice of some programs and services at the expense of others that are required by the state or federal government. These "mandates" touch nearly every department in local government and in the school districts.

More than half (nearly $21.7 million) of Yates County's total 2011 budget — a $40.5 million spending plan — is connected to mandates.

State mandates are programs or services that the state requires local governments or schoools to provide on its behalf. Sometimes the state reimburses the local government for the cost of providing these services, but other times, there is no reimbursement, or the state changes the amount it reimburses.

According to Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy, sometimes the state waits up to three years to make the reimbursement.

Purdy says a recent example of a state mandate is Leandra's Law. Leandra's Law was adopted by New York state in 2009 in response to a fatal DWI accident in which a little girl named Leandra was killed. With the passage of the law, courts now must order all drivers convicted of a misdemeanor or felony DWI when a child was in the vehicle to install and maintain an ignition interlock device for at least six months. Their sentence must also include probation or conditional discharge.

County Probation departments are charged with the responsibility of monitoring compliance. The state allocated $3 million for a one-time resource to defray the costs to the counties. But, says Purdy, $3 million throughout the state doesn't go very far, and since its a one-time payment, the requirement, while difficult to argue against, is another unfunded or under-funded mandate.

Costs that the county is required to cover (absolute mandates) include:

• Social Services

• Pension System

• Community College Tuition

• Education/Care Of Handicapped Children

• Workers Compensation

• Early Intervention

• Landfill

• Unemployment Reserve.

The total cost for these programs in 2011 is budgeted at $11.2 million. State and federal funds totaling $3.4 million leave local property taxpayers footing a $7.8 million bill. That amount could grow if the state and federal governments decide to reduce reimbursements, something that has already happened in some cases. For example, the federal government has decided to keep 1.1 percent of all Medicaid reimbursements due to Yates County since last September.

Other services that the county has some flexibility from mandates include jail, social service administration, probation, public defender, district attorney, personnel/civil service, community services, court security, elections and treasurer.

The total cost for these programs in 2011 is budgeted at $10.4 million. State and federal funds totaling $6.2 million bring the local share to nearly $4.3 million.

Still more services that are important for the community and local economy are not required and are completely funded through local property taxes. One of the programs that is not required is the county's Home Health Care, operated by the Public Health Department. While the service is funded by private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, Purdy says there's a chance the governor could allow other home health agencies to begin operating in the county, competing for the revenue, which would have two results: devaluation of the opearting certificate, and a reduction in revenues to the county.

The county has begun a process to look at the feasibility of selling the right to operate a home health care agency in Yates County. An outside agency could purchase the county's certificate and provide the service, a move that would bring the county some revenue from the sale. Some supporters of the program oppose the sale, saying the service makes money for the county.

Purdy warned legislators earlier this year that there were more difficult choices ahead as the 2012 budget process nears.

Yates County Mandates with Minimal Flexibility in 2011