Wednesday, September 2, 2009

County officials condemn cost-shifting

Copyright © 2009 Mid-Hudson News Network, a division of Statewide News Network, Inc

ALBANY - As state leaders and budget officials prepare to address a $2.1 billion hole in the State Budget, a bipartisan group of county officials, this morning, presented a long list of how the state’s fiscal woes are impacting their county governments. They also called on the State’s fiscal decision makers to cut state spending in their deficit reduction plan (DRP), rather than shift costs to county property taxpayers.

“New York State’s current and out-year imbalance between spending and revenues, combined with the looming disappearance of federal stimulus dollars, require immediate and structural spending controls,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario. “At the county level, we have seen three consecutive quarters of decline in our sales tax receipts, increased unemployment, and lagging reimbursement from the state, all of which are resulting in mid-year budget deficits in many counties—and leaders in those counties are making painful mid-year adjustments to close those gaps.”

Governor David Paterson has said he will call the State Legislature back into session in September to enact a mid-year deficit reduction plan that will help to close the projected State Budget gap. County leaders today said they want to make sure they aren’t called upon to close that gap at the State level because many of them are facing mid-year deficits themselves.

Republican Orange County Executive Edward Diana, said all Democrat Paterson has to do is look at what the counties are doing.

“We’ve reduced our work forces. We did furloughs. We laid people off. We’ve not hired any new people. We’ve consolidated our department. We lessend the amount of services that we provide, because we are a service business. Don’t ever forget what we do; we provide services, and 75 to 80 percent of it are state services that are provided by the county government.”

Some of the fiscal pressures currently facing counties include:

  • Lower than expected local sales tax receipts – for the third quarter in a row – a full 9% below last year’s receipts by the end of second quarter;
  • Lagging reimbursement from the state for state programs delivered at the county level;
  • Higher local unemployment and increased demand for county services;
  • Increased employee costs – in the form of pension contributions and health care costs.

“We support Governor Paterson’s efforts to cut spending at the state level. He understands the plight of our property taxpayers, who can’t afford to pay more, especially in these difficult economic times,” said Broome County Executive Barbara Fiala, a Democrat, and president of the New York State County Executives Association. “Each and every one of our counties is facing some difficult decisions. We are having to prioritize our programs, cut here and there and address mid-year budget challenges at the same time we are creating our 2010 budgets. We have no room for reductions or cost shifts from state government in Albany.”

Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, a Republican, said all of this is driving people from the state.

“So in addition to burdening us with mandated costs not covered by state revenues, they are also adding tax upon tax", Vanderhoef said. "Rockland County, the Hudson Valey, Chemung, Erie, it doesn’t matter where you go, people will leave, and if they further ask us to pick up the cost of these programs, people will definitely be moving to South Carolina.”

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