Legislators call ‘Mayday’

Gwen Chamberlain

Yates County Legislators are joining other county lawmakers from around New York in a renewed call for relief from state mandates.

At Monday’s legislature meeting, Finance Committee Chairman Timothy Dennis introduced a resolution declaring May 14 to be “Mayday for Mandate Relief.”

The resolution states that the delivery of some state programs is forcing counties to dedicate more then 80 percent of their entire budget to funding state mandated programs.

Legislators say this is draining resources for important local programs like highway maintenance and public safety.

Although a Mandate Relief Council was established when the state enacted a property tax cap in 2011, no action has been taken to review state mandates, says Dennis.

“These state mandates are the root cause of high county property and sales taxes in New York and have led to a decline in the delivery of important local services,” says the resolution.

According to information provided by the New York State Association of Counties, just nine state mandates account for 90 percent of all county property taxes levied in 2010 outside of New York City — a total of $4.4 billion.

The mandates include Medicaid, temporary assistance/ public assistance, child welfare protective and preventive care, special education - pre-school, early intervention, probation, indigent defense, youth detention and pensions.

“This truly is a Mayday situation. We’re under the 2 percent tax cap and at the same time, mandates,” he said, explaining that just two of the items — Medicaid and pensions — use 50 percent of the local tax levy. Seventy-six percent of the tax levy for this year’s budget is paying for absolute mandates while the net cost of all mandated programs equals 101 percent of the local property taxes.

Dennis said the costs to Yates County are huge, causing the legislature to make difficult decisions regarding other spending.

“Our highways have taken major hits to staying within the cap,” he said. Highway Superintendent David Hartman said just four and a half miles of the county’s 180 miles of highways is being resurfaced this year. In the past, an average of six miles had been done, and Hartman says at the current rate, county highways won’t be improved more often than every 36 years.

Dennis also noted the legislature has reduced the number of road patrol deputies,  has delayed upgrades to facilities and reduced assistance to communities not-for-profit organizations.

“We’ve done it (met the cap) at the expense of our residents,” he said.

Legislative Chairman Taylor Fitch said the squeeze between the tax cap and costly mandates has become a problem for all counties. He commented about the increase in state regulations coupled with reduced reimbursement and added, “These actions by New York State cannot continue.”

Other business at Monday’s legislature meeting included:

• REAPPORTIONMENT: Legislators scheduled a public hearing for 1:05 p.m. June 11 to hear comments on a local law adopting a plan of reapportionment of legislative districts. The proposed districts will reflect no changes in Districts 1 and 2. District 3 will encompass all of the Town of Milo and District 4 will be reduced to include only the Towns of Barrington and Starkey.

• MORTGAGE TAX: Legislators approved mortgage tax apportionments totalling $220,227.19. Payments ranged from $8,420.93 to the Town of Italy to $57,162.86 to the Town of Milo, of which $18,909.16 was paid to the Village of Penn Yan.

• PERSONNEL DIRECTOR: Legislators appointed Amy Guererri as Personnel Officer for a term expiring March 26, 2013. Administrator Sarah Purdy said Guererri brings experience from the public sector and not-for-profit organizations as she previously worked for Rochester Health Systems and the Geneva Housing Authority. She lives in Geneva.

• DEPUTY SHERIFF: Legislators agreed to refill a vacant full time deputy sheriff position. Donna Alexander, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said the number of road patrol deputies has been reduced by two and an investigator is retiring. She said Sheriff Ron Spike has opted to not fill the vacant investigator position in order to fill one of the deputy positions.

• PILOT: The legislators agreed to cancel penalties and interest totalling nearly $4,000 for town and county taxes on the AEE2 LLC property known as the Greenidge Power Plant. The company that owns the property, AES, has filed for bankruptcy.  Dennis said it is necessary to take this action in order to continue receiving PILOT payments.

• DEPUTY TREASURER: Legislators established a Deputy Treasurer position in anticipation of the planned retirement of the Deputy County Treasurer. It is planned that the position will be filled on June 18.