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May 6, 2020 - 8:13pm

Legislative committee backs measure to stop revenue distribution payments to towns and villages

Genesee County legislators are making it clear to their constituents that there is “no joy in Mudville” after having to strike out previously approved revenue distribution payments to towns and villages due to the financial devastation caused by COVID-19.

The Ways & Means Committee today, via Zoom videoconferencing, supported a new resolution that immediately rescinds measures passed in 2018 and 2019 that authorized the county treasurer to make annual payments – in quarterly amounts – to the towns and villages.

It will now be forwarded to the full legislature for voting, likely at its May 13th meeting.

“The members of the legislature do not take this move lightly,” Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg said. “These circumstances are really something that nobody could have foreseen. Hopefully, they’ll be limited in scope and we’ll get through this and we won’t have a go-around again, but we don’t even know if that’s the case right now.”

Clattenburg emphasized that legislators will stay in contact with town and village officials, adding that “when we are able to get back to them with some more revenue sharing, we will certainly have those conversations.”

The resolution refers to the sacrifices the county has had to make through this crisis, including: the elimination of multiple capital projects and asset acquisitions; instituting a hiring freeze; furloughing many (currently 48) employees; and cutting contracts and agreements with outside agencies.

Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said they have no choice but to stop the payments until further notice in light of the uncertainty surrounding any aid from the federal or state government.

“Our responsibility is to stay abreast of the situation of where the revenue is coming from,” she said. “The county treasurer has been authorized to make these payments without any further action from the county legislature, and that is the purpose for rescinding these – to remove that authority from the treasurer. We understand that the COVID impact could be with us until 2024 and I think that we’re being generous with that timeframe right now.”

County Manager Jay Gsell cited a report released today by the New York State Association of Counties that, he says, points to “very severe and drastic prospects in the loss of sales tax and state aid.”

The report, Gsell said, predicts that Genesee County could lose from $4.2 million to $9.9 million in sales tax and from $3.3 million to $8.4 million in state aid depending upon the gravity of the economic condition at the state level.

“This is truly not a good 'new normal' but it is something we’re going to have to deal with,” Gsell said. “One of the small glimmers may or may not be federal stimulus 4.0. The U.S. Congress and the President effectuating what we know at the moment does include resources for state, counties, cities, towns and villages -- and that our state senators are solidly behind -- (would help to alleviate the local situation).”

Legislators John Hilchey and John Deleo agreed with the latest action.

“In light of the pandemic now, we can’t fulfill our obligations to those two resolutions of 2018 and 2019 and this gives us a chance to reset with us rescinding until further notice,” Hilchey said. “It’s something we have to do to get out from the obligations of those prior resolutions.”

Deleo said dealing with the potential cuts along with state mandates is discouraging.

“The thing is, we’ve always been very thrifty and frugal, and this is definitely unforeseen and this is going to hurt,” he said. “Now to have this thrusted upon us. With all the mandates that New York State kept throwing on us and now they’re going to cut even more, this is going to be one hell of a ride.”

Clattenburg said that municipalities have entered an “age of austerity … that needs to be across every level of government.”

“I think it needs to be in school districts, our towns and villages and in city budget. The recognition (must be realized) that for a lot of people life has changed dramatically. People are losing jobs and they might not get back those same jobs.”

For Stein, it’s a matter of the legislature living up to its obligations in the most effective fashion.

“We are sharing everything we that we know and being honest and transparent,” she said. “Our responsibility in the county is to provide public health and public safety and emergency operations here, and we are taking care of those responsibilities on behalf of the entire population and communities of Genesee County.”

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