More than a dozen veterans made sure their voices were heard Thursday at the public hearing on the proposed 2012 Genesee County budget.
Repeatedly, veterans stepped to the podium and pleaded with the legislature to ensure the next veterans services officer is properly trained.
"Besides the force reduction through attrition, thousands and thousands of servicemen are about to become veterans," said Ernie Luskey, noting the plans to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afganistan in the next couple of years.
Those veterans will have their benefits jeopardized if there isn't a properly trained, credentialed and accredited veterans service officer working for the county, each speaker said.
"There are just too many laws, rules and regulations for a veterans services officer to pick up on the fly," Luskey said. "He has to be trained."
After the meeting, County Manager Jay Gsell said the new veterans services officer will be trained.
Hal Kreter retires from the job in August (he and his wife plan to move to Twentynine Palms in California). Gsell said his replacement will be hired in July or earlier and there are training classes available in August and September.
There is money in the social services budget to accomodate the training, Gsell said.
Gsell said there are other changes coming in the proposed budget, most significantly, the tax rate is going to be reduced.
Adjustments have already been made to reduce the rate from the originally proposed rate of $9.95 per $1,000 of assessed value to $9.92.
Gsell said the direction he is getting from the legislature is to reduce it further -- to $9.85 per thousand. The current rate is $9.82.
The county is struggling with cuts to local programs while seeing state-mandated costs -- particularly pension contributions and Medicaid expenses -- skyrocket.
Taken together, the increases in those two programs push the expenditure beyond what the county could generate in property tax revenue, if the legislature raised taxes as much as it could under the recently enacted 2-percent property tax levy cap.
Medicaid alone costs the county more than 42 percent of county's tax levy, or $10 million.
Gsell said New York is one of only three states in the union that makes local taxpayers shoulder any part of Medicaid expenses, all while also providing recipients with a "Maserati" level of numerous services, and with less oversight.
"Medicaid is the entitlement with no ceiling and minimal controls as far as case management and disease management and health-living metrics are concerned," Gsell said.
If the state took over Medicaid costs, property taxes in the county could be reduced by about $3 per thousand.
"Contrary to what Gov. Cuomo has alleged himself or through his stalking horse, Lt. Gov. Duffy, we counties are not whining or asking to be 'subsidized,'" Gsell said.
"The state put counties in this unprecedented and unenviable position 30 or 40 years ago, with no local control or discretion to fund a benefit that the state and federal governments totally orchestrate. The state alone has the power to gradually and strategically extricate the counties from this fiscal morass."
Total proposed appropriations for 2012 are $142,098,429. That's up 1.10 percent from 2011.
Anticipated revenue for the fiscal year is $112,015,617. The deficit will need to be made up either through more cuts in spending or an increase in the property tax rate.
Gsell said cuts will be made and the rate increase will be lessened when the revised budget is brought forward on Nov. 21.
Top photo: County Manager Jay Gsell; inset, veteran Paul Gaylord; bottom, legislators Esther Leadley, Robert Radley and Hollis Upson.