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January 22, 2020 - 10:50am
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, news, steve hawley, Ed Rath, NYS Association of Counties.

Yesterday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his proposed budget for 2020-2021. His budget press release is too long to put on the home page. You can read it here. Below are reactions we've received to the budget proposal.

From Assemblyman Steve Hawley:

“The governor made a lot of promises Tuesday, specifically to increase funding across the board for every program in the state, including an out-of-control Medicaid program that is the root cause behind a $6 billion deficit. In fiscal year 2018 alone, New York spent more on Medicaid than Texas and Florida combined, despite having around half the population.

“The national economy is booming in almost every metric, yet under one-party leadership in New York, we are facing a massive shortfall. Every indication says we need to roll back reckless spending, but Gov. Cuomo continues his handouts, even blaming counties and local governments for causing the state’s woes.

“As budget negotiations intensify, I will be working diligently to see that the governor sticks to his word of no new taxes and that his deficit does not fall on the backs of hardworking taxpayers. Whether it’s property tax relief, road and bridge repair or school funding, Western New York deserves its fair share of help, and I will continue to be a strong advocate on our behalf as the budget is determined over the coming months."

From Ed Rath, candidate for the 61st State Senate District:

“Faced with a $6.5 billion budget gap, I was hoping the Governor would outline some specifics on how he planned to address that shortfall, particularly as it relates to Medicaid. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the proposed budget the people of New York State heard today. Medicaid accounts for two-thirds of the projected budget shortfall, but the Governor was woefully short on specifics in how he plans to generate the $2.5 billion in savings needed to offset Medicaid spending.

"Similarly, and equally disappointing, the budget proposal fails to reform the cash bail law. Instead, public safety and judicial discretion are being compromised, and a misguided and dangerous policy remains in effect.

“I was pleased to see a focus on education, and I hope that there is adequate funding for our schools to meet their increased financial needs.”

“However, any measure to address and strengthen our state’s business climate is mixed. On one hand, I was also pleased to see that middle-class tax cuts are expected to generate $4.7 million in savings, and that small corporate business tax cuts will generate an estimated $35 million. This is the sort of approach we need to help spur job creation and retention so that companies and workers can remain in our great Empire State, rather than continue to flee to other states. Unfortunately, the budget proposal also includes $51 million in tax and fee increases, which only serve to continue to shift the burden onto the backs of the hardworking people of New York.

“Overall, it seems that any attempt at a step forward in this budget is coupled with two steps backward or deafening silence on how our elected leaders plan to make New York stronger. The people of New York deserve more.”

The 61st Senate District includes portions of Erie, Genesee, and Monroe Counties.

Rath has served in the Erie County Legislature since first winning election in 2007. His district includes Amherst, Clarence, Akron, and Newstead. In the Legislature, he has been a fierce advocate for the reduction and reform of County government to lower the property tax burden, including co-sponsoring the effort to reduce the size of the Legislature from 15 to the current 11 seats. Throughout his 12 years in office, Rath has never voted in favor of a tax increase, and he voted against Erie County’s 2020 spending plan, due to runaway spending increases and public safety concerns.

New York Farm Bureau:

“Governor Cuomo’s proposed funding of $29 million is integral to the success of a number of important agricultural programs that support research, marketing and promotion of New York farm products. In addition, New York Farm Bureau supports the proposed Environmental Protection Fund that assists with conservation and stewardship programs utilized by farmers across the state.

"This year, Governor Cuomo also is proposing several new budget changes that are among our organization’s biggest priorities for the year. This includes a permanent Refundable Investment Tax Credit for farmers, increasing funding for the Farmworker Housing Program to $15 million and expanding the definition of family that was severely limiting in the recently enacted farm labor law. The budget language will better reflect the reality on farms today as many extended family members also play significant roles on farms and should not be covered under new farm labor regulations. These additions will begin to offset the increased labor costs facing our state’s farms, and we thank Governor Cuomo and his administration for continuing to work with New York Farm Bureau to address these issues.”

From the NYS Association of Counties President John F. (Jack) Marren:

In 1966, the State’s new Medicaid program cost county homeowners and businesses $112 million in local property taxes. Today, that cost is $7.6 billion.

More than 50 years later, in 2013, to address property taxes at the local level, the state capped increases in local Medicaid costs. On behalf of the 62 counties, including the boroughs of New York City, we are grateful to Governor Cuomo and the Legislature for championing the State's cap on local Medicaid cost growth. It has proven to be an historic safeguard against property tax growth.

Once again, counties stand united behind lowering the cost of Medicaid and improving the quality of care for those in need. We will review what is under local control to accomplish this, as well as what parameters are under state control, to insure the integrity of the taxpayer-funded health care program.

As with any organization, today’s health care costs, especially those embedded in Medicaid, are inherently systemic. Right now more than one third of New York’s population is on Medicaid, more and more Baby Boomers are accessing costly long-term care, and other medical coverage—from prescriptions to X-rays to hospital stays.

Counties stand ready to work with a Medicaid Redesign Team to assist the state with reforming its Medicaid Program.

January 22, 2020 - 10:41am
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, Andrew Cuomo.

Press release:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today outlined the FY 2021 Executive Budget, advancing a clear vision and bold, nation-leading and historic actions to make progress happen in the State of New York.

The budget plan features a $33 billion five-year plan to combat climate change, including a new plan to streamline government bureaucracy to deliver renewable energy projects faster; a $25 billion expansion of New York's largest-in-the-nation building program, bringing it to $275 billion; an historic $28.5 billion investment in education while reforming funding formulas to prioritize support for poor schools, and an expanded Excelsior free college tuition program to include families making up to $150,000 per year.

The Executive Budget also includes a new proposal to protect our democracy by banning foreign-influenced corporations from making campaign contributions; the most funding in the state's history - an additional $64 million - to provide services to people who are homeless, including those with mental illness; investments to combat child poverty and $157 million to expand the Empire State Child Tax Credit, serving 400,000 families with children under 4 years old; and an additional $25 million funding to harden security infrastructure at non-public schools and cultural organizations vulnerable to hate crimes.

The budget plan will also promote public health with proposals to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and cap insulin co-payments at $100 per month. It will continue New York's unprecedented economic and social progress by continuing middle-class tax cuts for 4.7 million New Yorkers making under $300,000 a year; cutting small corporate business taxes, benefiting 36,000 taxpayers and saving them $35 million; enacting the strongest Paid Sick Leave program in the nation, impacting 1.3 million New Yorkers; closing the rape intoxication loophole; expanding banking services for low-income people, and proposing an inclusive Equal Rights Amendment.

The Governor's proposal will reform the current Medicaid system with a new Medicaid Redesign Team co-chaired by Michael Dowling of Northwell Health and labor leader Dennis Rivera. The MRT II will work to reform the program and identify $2.5 billion in savings this year by finding industry efficiencies or additional industry revenue with zero impact to beneficiaries.

For the 10th consecutive year, the Executive Budget is balanced and continues the state's record of fiscal integrity.

"This budget is a roadmap for delivering progressive results for the people of this state and addressing the imminent challenges of our time by advancing social, racial and economic justice. We're proposing historic investments in climate change and infrastructure programs and fixing the school aid formula to ensure poorer schools get the funding they need," Governor Cuomo said. "We're tackling the division and hate that has spread like cancer in the body politic by funding new security measures for organizations targeted by hate crimes, protecting our democracy from foreign-influenced corporations, and addressing homelessness, child poverty and other barriers facing low-income New Yorkers. These policies build on our extensive accomplishments over the past nine years that have led to unprecedented economic growth and social progress and historically low unemployment throughout the state all while maintaining fiscal discipline and lowering taxes for middle class families."

Fiscal Highlights of the FY 2021 Executive Budget:

  • State Operating Funds spending is $105.8 billion - an increase of 1.9 percent (State Operating Funds exclude Federal funds and capital)
  • All Funds spending $178 billion for FY 2021
  • Increases School Aid by $826 million - a 3 percent increase that brings the State's total annual investment to $28.5 billion
  • Provides $7.8 billion in State support for higher education in New York - an increase of $1.8 billion or 29 percent since FY 2012
  • Continues the phase-in of the Middle Class Tax Cut for nearly five million New Yorkers - saving New Yorkers over $1.8 billion this year

2021 MAKING PROGRESS HAPPEN BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

$33 Billion Five-Year Plan to Combat Climate Change: The FY 2021 Executive Budget continues New York's record as the most aggressive climate leader in the world through a $33 billion five-year plan to combat climate change that will include: $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act supplemented by $740 million in additional state funding; $28 billion for green energy; and $1.5 billion for carbon-free transportation. The Governor also proposes reforms to approve renewable projects faster, with the State taking the lead in getting sites shovel ready for our green energy future.

$275 Billion Infrastructure Program: Governor Cuomo has undertaken the most ambitious infrastructure plan in the nation. Starting with an initial $100 billion investment, and followed up in the FY 2020 Budget with a second $150 billion investment, this Budget begins the support for expanding the total investment by $25 billion to $275 billion with new investments in transit, roads and bridges. The second phase, newly expanded $175 billion infrastructure plan builds on the Governor's initial $100 billion plan and includes:

  • $87 billion for transportation, including mass transit, railroads, airports, highways, bridges, and tunnels across the State.
  • $35 billion for improving environmental facilities and parks, and the development of green energy.
  • $11 billion for economic and community development.
  • $9 billion to further the State's investment in the construction of high-quality, affordable housing for the people of New York.
  • $19 billion to help school districts build new and better school buildings.
  • $14 billion to improve and maintain SUNY and CUNY buildings, State health care facilities and other capital assets.

The $275 billion infrastructure program will also continue to fund $6 billion for the Long Island Rail Road Second Track, Third Track and 39 modernized stations; new LaGuardia and JFK Airports; the East Side Access project; the Javits Center expansion; four new Bronx Metro-North stations in transit deserts; the Empire State Trail; modernization of the New York State Fair; and the $1 billion New NY Broadband program, ensuring broadband internet access for all.

Housing and Services for People who are Homeless, Including Those with Mental Illness: New York's homeless community and those with mental illness are among the hardest populations to help. This year, Governor Cuomo is proposing an aggressive strategy and the most funding in the State's history to provide housing and services to these vulnerable populations. Building on the State's $20 billion affordable housing and homeless initiative, the FY 2021 Budget doubles funding from $64 million to $128 million for the Homeless Housing Assistance Program and invests $5 million for projects for homeless veterans.

Combating Child Poverty with the Empire State Child Tax Credit: The FY 2021 Budget is supporting $2.9 billion for families with children under five years old, including $157 million to expand the Empire State Child Tax Credit. Currently this critical credit for low-and moderate-income families only applies to children 4-16 years old. This proposal will eliminate this unfair distinction and expand the tax credit to families with children between the ages of 0-3 making under $50,000. This will provide an average of a $400 benefit per family to nearly 400,000 working class families with children under four years old - approximately 172,500 families with children over the age of three will get an additional benefit and 225,500 families with children three and under will receive this benefit for the first time.

Protecting Organizations Vulnerable to Hate Crimes: The FY 2021 Budget will invest an additional $25 million for religious and non-religious not-for-profit organizations that are vulnerable to hate crimes. This funding builds on the $70 million the State has already made available for these organizations to fight back against hate.

Banning Contributions from Foreign-Influenced Corporations: The FY 2021 Budget includes a proposal to ban corporations from contributing to political campaigns in New York, or from making independent expenditures to influence elections, if a single foreign entity controls 5 percent ownership. The proposal would also ban corporations with more than 10 percent ownership in aggregate by two or more foreign entities from making such contributions or expenditures. Finally, the proposal will ban campaign spending if more than 10 percent of a corporation's board members are foreign nationals, or a foreign national participates in the decision making with respect to a corporation's political activities in the United States. Our nation's campaign finance laws state that "foreign nationals" are barred from spending in any American election, city, state or federal. Since that's true for individual foreigners, it must also be true for the corporations owned or controlled by them.

Requiring Public Officials to Disclose Their Tax Returns: Governor Cuomo will propose the "Nothing to Hide" Act in the FY 2021 Executive Budget to make our government the most transparent in the nation. The law will require that the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, the Comptroller, every state commissioner, and every Assembly Member and Senator make their tax returns public. Further, any elected official in the State with a government salary over $100,000 a year will have to do the same. 

New School Aid Funding Formula: Since 2012, New York State has increased funding for education by 43 percent, and this year the Governor's main goal is to ensure educational equity. In 2019 the Governor mandated that districts disclose the amount of funding distributed to each individual school. However, wealthier school districts still spend approximately $36,000 per student as opposed to $13,000 per student at poorer school districts. To ensure State funds are used to reduce funding disparities, the FY 2021 Budget will increase School Aid by $826 million, bringing the total annual investment to a record $28.5 billion, with 85 percent of the Foundation Aid increase going to the highest-need districts. To further prioritize poorer schools and ensure education equity, the Governor is proposing a new School Aid Funding Formula to properly distribute funds and build up underserved school districts.

Continuing Middle-Class Tax Cuts: Governor Cuomo will continue to lower Personal Income Tax rates for middle-class New Yorkers. In 2020, the third year of the multi-year tax cuts enacted in 2016, income tax rates have been lowered from 6.85 percent to 6.09 percent for taxpayers in the $43,000-$161,550 income bracket, and to 6.41 percent in the $161,550-$323,200 income bracket. These cuts are expected to save 4.7 million New Yorkers over $1.8 billion this year. Furthermore, income tax rates will continue to drop to 5.5 percent for taxpayers in the $27,900-$161,550 tax bracket and 6 percent in the $161,550-$323,200 brackets. When the cuts are fully phased in, middle-class taxpayers will have received an income tax rate cut up to 20 percent, amounting to a projected $4.2 billion in annual savings for six million filers by 2025. As the new rates phase in, they will be the State's lowest middle-class tax rates in more than 70 years.

Lowering Tax Rates by 40 Percent for Small Businesses: To continue the State's robust economic growth and record of job creation, Governor Cuomo will enact comprehensive tax relief for small businesses, including reducing the corporate tax rate for small businesses from 6.5 percent to 4 percent, which will benefit 36,000 taxpayers and save them $35 million.

Establishing Paid Sick Leave for Working New Yorkers: To further empower New York's low-wage workers and protect all consumers in the State, Governor Cuomo will enact paid sick leave. Businesses with five to 99 employees will provide their employees at least five days of job-protected paid sick leave per year and businesses with 100 employees or more will provide at least seven days of paid sick leave per year. Smaller businesses, with four or fewer employees, will guarantee five days of job-protected unpaid sick leave to their employees every year. Small businesses already providing paid sick leave will be able to so.

Expanding Access to Safe and Affordable Banking Services, Credit and Financial Education: The FY 2021 Budget will invest $25 million in new funding over five years to support banking services in low-income areas and underserved communities across the state. This funding is part of the Governor's sweeping financial access and inclusion agenda that builds on the work his administration has done to expand access to safe and affordable banking services, credit and financial education. The Budget will also create a statewide Office of Financial Inclusion and Empowerment, based at the Department of Financial Services, to meet the financial services needs of low- and middle- income New Yorkers across the state.

Expanding Free College Tuition to More Middle-Class Families: To expand the transformational opportunity of the Excelsior Scholarship to more middle-class families, Governor Cuomo is proposing to raise the Excelsior eligibility threshold from $125,000 to $150,000 of adjusted gross family income for New York's families. By increasing the threshold, more than 230,000, or nearly 58 percent of New York resident students will go to a SUNY or CUNY college tuition-free.

Closing the Rape Intoxication Loophole: Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to close the archaic rape intoxication loophole because rape should not be a punishment for drinking alcohol under New York State law. This legislation will rightfully clarify that a victim's ability to consent is jeopardized whether they were voluntarily or involuntarily intoxicated, giving prosecutors the ability to ensure that sexual abusers are held accountable for their criminal acts and sexual abuse survivors are able to obtain the justice they deserve.

Passing First-in-the-Nation Inclusive Equal Rights Amendment: Governor Cuomo will seek to amend the New York State Constitution's Equal Rights Amendment so that New York sets the national standard for how states protect equal rights. The Governor will seek to add sex as a protected class to Section 11 of Article I, ensuring that all New Yorkers, regardless of their gender, are fully protected by the State Constitution. Additionally, he will push for the addition of other categories, including ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity so that those critically important protections are also enshrined into the state constitution.

GREEN ECONOMY & ENVIRONMENT
This past decade was the hottest ever recorded, and the five hottest years in history have all occurred since 2015. New York will continue its record as the most aggressive climate leader in the world through a $33 billion five-year plan to combat climate change. This nation-leading first of its kind plan will transition the State to renewable power while combatting climate.

Restore Mother Nature: Centered on the Governor's $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, New York State will reduce flood risk, invest in resilient infrastructure and revitalize critical fish and wildlife habitats by connecting streams and waterways, right-sizing culverts and dams, restoring freshwater and tidal wetlands, reclaiming natural floodplains, restocking shellfish populations and upgrading fish hatcheries, preserving open space, conserving more forest areas, replanting more trees, reducing contamination from agricultural and stormwater runoff, and expanding renewable energy. This wide-reaching environmental conservation and resiliency investment includes support from the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Environmental Protection Fund. This is a key component of the Governor's $33 billion five-year plan to combat climate change.

Green Energy: Governor Cuomo has set New York on course to achieving 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and zero greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector by 2040. Under his leadership, the State has made substantial progress toward these goals with significant investments in energy efficiency, solar energy, wind energy and energy storage. To help achieve these goals, the Climate plan invests $28 billion through NYSERDA, New York Green Bank, NYPA and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to develop, support and expand carbon-free energy production, build the infrastructure such as transmission lines and energy storage that make renewable energy sources viable and work with our regional partners in driving down carbon emissions. This is a key component of the Governor's $33 billion five-year plan to combat climate change.

Carbon-Free Transportation: New York already has the second most efficient transportation sector and lowest CO2 emissions per capita of any state. New York is a leader in electric vehicles - or EVs - thanks to the Charge NY initiative launched by Governor Cuomo in 2013.  Charge NY set ambitious goals - 30,000 EVs and 3,000 EV charging stations by the end of 2018 - and exceeded them.  Over 50,000 electric vehicles have been purchased in New York since 2013 — more than 48 other states. The Climate Budget invests $370 million to continue to reduce carbon emissions in New York State. This is a key component of the Governor's $33 billion five-year plan to combat climate change.

Banning Single Use and Packaging Styrofoam Products: To build on the progress of last year's plastic bag ban, the Governor is proposing new legislation to prohibit the distribution and use of expanded polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, single-use food containers and packaging materials by January 1, 2022.

Enacting Comprehensive E-Bike and E-Scooter Legislation: To get more people out of cars, the Governor is proposing comprehensive legislation to legalize and expand the e-bike and e-scooter network without compromising on public safety.

Making the Fracking Ban Permanent: The Governor will introduce a bill to permanently ban fracking by amending environmental conservation law to restrict the Department of Environmental Conservation from approving permits that would authorize an applicant to drill, deepen, plug back or convert wells that use high-volume hydraulic fracturing to complete or recomplete natural gas resources, protecting the health of New Yorkers and ensuring permanently that our environment is not harmed by this practice. This bill reflects an important step forward toward achieving New York's clean energy economy goals.

Renewing Record Funding for the Environmental Protection Fund: The Budget continues EPF funding for a second straight year at a record high $300 million. Appropriations include $39 million for solid waste programs, $89 million for parks and recreation, $152 million for open space programs and $20 million for the climate change mitigation and adaptation program.  

BUILDING A NEW NY

Economic development follows infrastructure, and while the country sits idle New York State is forging ahead with the nation's most aggressive $275 billion infrastructure program that is transforming every region of the State. Under the Governor's leadership, New York is investing more today in roads and bridges than at any period in our State's history, and the state has already completed $65 billion in construction, more than any state in the nation. Building upon these historic investments, Governor Cuomo will continue to lead the way on creating a 21st Century transportation infrastructure that moves New York's economy forward and improves quality of life for our residents and visitors.

DOT Capital Plan: The FY 2021 Budget will support $11.9 billion for the two-year DOT Capital Plan that will transform New York's highways, bridges, rail, aviation infrastructure, non-MTA transit and DOT facilities. Compared to the final two years of the last DOT Capital Plan, this is an increase of $3 billion, or 33 percent.

MTA Capital Plan Commitment: The FY 2021 Budget will continue to support the $52 billion MTA Capital Plan - the largest state investment in history. This investment includes $3 billion to make up to 70 subway stations accessible.

Upstate Airport Economic Development and Revitalization Competition Round 2: The FY 2021 Budget will invest up to $100 million to continue transforming upstate airports with Round 2 of the Upstate Airport and Economic Development Revitalization Competition. Airports across the state will be encouraged to submit proposals to enhance safety and economic development, improve airport operations and access, reduce environmental impact and create better passenger experiences.

Reimagining the Erie Canal. Building on the findings of the Reimagine the Canal Task Force, the New York Power Authority, which now oversees the Canal Corporation as a subsidiary, will invest $300 million over the next five years to integrate the Empire State Trail and Erie Canal through a new program that will stimulate tourism and economic development, address environmental challenges unknown a century ago, and create an asset that will improve the quality of life in communities along the 360-mile spine of the Erie Canal. A first phase of funding will start this year that will have two parts: a $100 million economic development fund to invest in communities along the Canal and a separate $65 million investment in solutions that will help prevent ice jams and related flooding in the Schenectady area. The remaining $135 million of the plan's funding will subsequently be allocated to research recommended by the Reimagine Task Force, as well as to solutions related to flood mitigation, invasive species prevention and ecosystem restoration.

Empire Station: The State is investing $700 million to leverage a total of $3 billion, including from private sector and Federal sources, for the transformation of the James A. Farley Post Office building into the Moynihan Train Hall. Combined with extensive renovations at the existing Penn Station, this will create a new Empire Station. In his 2020 State of the State, Governor Cuomo announced a proposal to expand Penn Station southward to create the Empire Station District. The plan creates new, larger terminals, and will increase track and train capacity by 40 percent, addressing the underlying and most critical problem at the busiest transit hub in the Western Hemisphere.

Regional Targeted Investments are Working

The Governor will continue to advance economic prosperity for all with projects that build on the state's successful regional economic development strategy.

Securing a High-Speed Electron-Ion Collider at Brookhaven: The FY 2021 Budget supports a $100 million multi-year commitment to secure a High-Speed Electron-Ion Collider at Brookhaven to build the region's research triangle. The funding will allow for the construction of new support buildings, power distribution upgrades, a new cooling system and sustainability enhancements required for the new collider.  

Modernizing Lake Placid Olympic facilities, Gore and Belleayre Mountains: The FY 2021 Budget will invest $147 million to modernize Lake Placid Olympic Facilities, Gore Mountain, and Belleayre Mountain.

Creating the State's First Comprehensive Education and Training Center in Syracuse: To meet the emerging science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics demands in Syracuse, the Executive Budget proposes the creation of the State's first regional Comprehensive Education and Workforce Training Center in Central New York. Administered by the Syracuse City School District in partnership with SUNY Empire State College and other local colleges and universities, the Center will provide specialized educational opportunities and state of the art workforce training programs in advanced technologies to students and residents throughout the region. The State will reimburse 98 percent, or $71.4 million, of the cost to renovate the building that will house the Center. The Syracuse Comprehensive Education and Workforce Training Center is scheduled to open in 2021 and will serve ultimately 1,000 students, as well as residents of the community. 

Transforming Buffalo's North Aud Block: The State will develop Buffalo Canalside's North Aud Block and improve access to the city's waterfront, featuring mixed use residential and commercial buildings and a piazza for public use, based on community and stakeholder input. This also includes the rail station that is forthcoming in Buffalo and its coordination with the new North Aud Block neighborhood.

Expanding High Technology Companies in Rochester: The Governor is supporting the expansion of three industry-leading high technology companies in the City of Rochester that will further grow the Finger Lakes regional economy as part of the Governor's continued commitment to growing the high-tech ecosystem in and around Rochester's Downtown Innovation Zone. The expansion of these companies will create more than 700 jobs in and near Rochester's Downtown Innovation Zone.

Expanding New York's Drone Corridor: The Governor is investing $9 million to establish an unmanned aerial system experimentation and test facility at Griffiss International Airport in Rome, Oneida County. This "Skydome" will be a year-round indoor research facility to support the safe experimentation of drone technology and techniques, further strengthening the Mohawk Valley and Central New York as a hub for innovation.

Phase II Capitol Courtyard Restoration: The FY 2021 Executive Budget will invest $5 million to enhance the State Capitol by renovating and refurbishing the courtyard to bring it back to its original grandeur and make it sustainable for commercial use.

Transferring Pier 76 Tow Pound to Hudson River Park for Reuse: Governor Cuomo is proposing that the Hudson River Park Trust develop a plan to effectuate the long deferred transfer of Pier 76 from its use as a tow pound for the NYPD to the control of the Hudson River Park Trust to integrate into the park complex, maximizing green space, recreation and community access and market potential. As part of the proposal, the NYPD must vacate within one year and the Hudson River Park Trust should also develop an improvement plan for Pier 40.

Vital Brooklyn Initiative: The FY 2021 Executive Budget will continue to invest in the $1.4 billion Vital Brooklyn Initiative. The funding will help build 32 healthcare centers, 4,000 new affordable homes and over 400 acres of newly opened green and recreational space.

South Bronx Transformation: The Budget will support $1.8 billion for the South Bronx transformation - the largest state investment in the South Bronx in the State's history. Projects to transform the South Bronx include the Sheridan Boulevard, Hunts Point Market and four new Metro-North stations in Bronx transit deserts. 

Launching Next Round of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative: The Downtown Revitalization Initiative is transforming downtown neighborhoods into vibrant communities where the next generation of New Yorkers will want to live, work and raise families. Participating communities are nominated by the State's ten REDCs based on the downtown's potential for transformation. Through four rounds of awards, each winning community was awarded $10 million to develop a downtown strategic investment plan and implement key catalytic projects that advance the community's vision for revitalization. The FY 2021 Executive Budget provides $100 million for a fifth round of the Downtown Revitalization Program.

Continuing the Successful Regional Economic Development Councils: In 2011, Governor Cuomo established 10 Regional Economic Development Councils to develop long-term regional strategic economic development plans. Since then, the State has invested more than $6.9 billion through the REDCs, funding more than 8,300 projects and supporting more than 240,000 jobs across the state. The FY 2021 Executive Budget includes $750 million to continue our aggressive, bottom-up regional economic development strategy through the transformative REDC initiative.

COMBATING DIVISION AND ENSURING PUBLIC SAFETY

Increasing and Modernizing Emergency Response Capacity: Over 60 percent of New York counties have been flooded twice in the past 10 years. We must be ready to handle these increasing, life-threatening, emergency situations. It is a new and growing challenge for our state operations. The FY 2021 Executive Budget sustains $12 million in capital funding to increase and update the State's emergency response capacity so our brave women and men have the right equipment to do their jobs.

Banning Repeat and High-Risk Sexual Offenders from MTA Transit Systems: The Governor will advance legislation to authorize the MTA to issue orders prohibiting individuals who commit repeat sex-related violations of the MTA code of conduct, those who are high-risk sex offenders (Level 3) or those who assault or harass MTA employees from using MTA transportation services for a period of three years. Additionally, this proposal will establish a new law for transit-related sex crime where, if convicted, a prohibition order may be imposed by a judge to ensure the safety of the pubic. Under this proposal, as a condition of pre-trial release, the judge may also issue a temporary prohibition order if good cause is shown that the prohibition is necessary to maintain public safety. Individuals who violate a prohibition order could be charged with Transit Trespass, an A misdemeanor.

 Banning Fentanyl Analogs to Further Combat the Opioid Epidemic: The Governor will introduce legislation to explicitly designate fentanyl analogs as controlled substances in New York State. This legislation will give police and law enforcement the authority to prosecute the manufacturing, sale and distribution of these drugs to the fullest extent of the law. The proposed legislation will also give the State Department of Health Commissioner the authority to add additional analogs to the list of controlled substances, enabling the State to stay in front of these deadly substances as they appear on the market.

 Preventing the Manufacture and Dissemination of Ghost Guns: To address the growing concern over ghost guns, Governor Cuomo will advance comprehensive legislation to prevent access to and use of these weapons. First, this proposal would require individuals to obtain major components of a firearm, rifle or shotgun only through an in-store transaction at a licensed gun dealer. Second, licensed dealers would be required to distribute major components only to individuals who possess valid identification and to log all transactions and would require all unfinished frames and receivers to have a serial number issued by the State Police. Third, the proposal would prohibit individuals who cannot legally possess a rifle or shotgun from possessing a major component part that could be used to build a firearm, rifle or shotgun and create new misdemeanor and felony penalties for violating these new provisions.

Closing the Out-of-State Gun Loophole: Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to prohibit individuals from obtaining a gun license who commit serious offenses out-of-state that would disqualify them from obtaining a gun license if committed in New York. This will provide greater consistency in New York's licensing scheme and ensure individuals who are prohibited from purchasing a firearm are not able to do so. The Governor is also advancing legislation to require all state and local law enforcement agencies in the state to opt in to the ATF's crime gun trace data sharing program and submit crime guns recovered through the ATF's eTrace system. Additionally, Governor Cuomo is proposing legislation to amend the Mental Hygiene Law to allow New York to share reports of individuals who are a danger to themselves or others with other states.

Legalizing Cannabis: This year Governor Cuomo is proposing a comprehensive regulatory approach to legalize cannabis, creating a new Office of Cannabis Management to specialize in cannabis regulation - overseeing the medical, adult-use and hemp programs. The proposal will administer social equity licensing opportunities, develop an egalitarian adult-use market structure and facilitate market entry through access to capital, technical assistance and incubation of equity entrepreneurs. The proposal will also correct past harms to individuals and communities that have disproportionally been impacted by prohibition. To safeguard public health, the proposal limits the sale of cannabis products to adults 21 and over and establishes stringent quality and safety controls including oversight over the packaging, labeling, advertising and testing of all cannabis products. These efforts will be done in coordination with neighboring states Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The Governor will also propose creating a first of its kind Global Cannabis and Hemp Center for Science, Research and Education with SUNY and other expert partners.

Passing the Hate Crime Anti-Terrorism Act: To address the disturbing number of anti-Semitic and other discriminatory attacks in New York, the Governor is proposing a first-in-the-nation domestic terrorism law to include mass violence motivated by hate, creating a new A-1 class felony punishable by up to life in prison without parole. The Governor is also proposing New York schools add a curriculum that teaches civic values and the state's rich history of diversity and religious freedom. The Battery Park City Authority will develop a plan to expand the Museum of Jewish Heritage on the Holocaust to be a learning destination for school children across the state.

October 29, 2019 - 3:24pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news.

The proposed county budget for 2020 includes a 7-cent property tax rate increase for county residents, up from $10.04 to $10.11, while the county grapples with new state spending mandates but manages to keep the tax levy under the state's 2-percent cap.

The proposed tax levy is $31,015,658, up $759,567.

Mandated expenses, from Medicaid to law enforcement functions, will consume 72 percent of the levy.

Total anticipated general fund expenditures are $114,048,256, or $13,030 less than 2019's.

New mandated expenses include additional services related to the Raise the Age legislation, which now requires most criminal cases involving 16- and 17-year-olds to be referred to a youth court, at $318,373. The state is expected to provide the county with full reimbursement for these expenses.

What is not reimbursed are expenses related to bail reform and new evidence discovery requirements, which require the District Attorney's Office to add additional staff, including a new full-time assistant district attorney, a part-time ADA, and a new paralegal.

The Public Defenders Office is also adding an attorney but this expense will be covered by state aid. 

The county will have 452 full-time-equivalent employees. 

While the state is pressuring municipalities to enter into more shared services agreements, the county has pretty much exhausted those opportunities, County Manager Jay Gsell suggested in his budget statement.

The county has been sharing services with County Highway and other county highway departments for 21 years. There are also shared service agreements for the Health Department with Orleans County and combined youth services between the county, city, and Orleans County. 

The Chamber of Commerce Tourism Bureau has an anticipated budget of $420,000, entirely funded by the bed tax. 

A motor pool agreement with Enterprise Fleet Management and energy savings initiatives as a result of consulting with Johnson Controls currently gives the county an anticipated $200,000 in savings.

A public hearing on the proposed budget will take place Nov. 6 in the Old Courthouse. The Legislature will vote on the proposed budget Nov. 25.

September 6, 2019 - 12:00pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, news.

Here is the anticipated schedule for review and adoption of Genesee County's 2020 budget:

Sept. 11, Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.
Budget Discussion
Conference Session before Legislature Meeting

Sept. 11, 6 p.m.
Comprehensive Plan presentation after Legislature Meeting                       

Sept. 6, Friday
Date for departments to submit budget request to County Manager

Sept. 9 – 30
Final review of department and agency budgets by County Manager with meetings scheduled between County Manager and department heads on budget and staffing requests

Oct. 2, Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. 
County Manager reviews overall County budget with Legislature. Legislature selects which departments to review services and respective budgets for Saturday morning meeting

Conference Session after Ways & Means Committee meeting               

Oct. 5, Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon              
Legislature meets with selected departments

Oct. 9, Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.
Review department discussions held on the 5th and further review of the budget and direction for County Manager
Conference Session before Legislature Meeting          

Oct. 16, Wednesday, 5:30 p.m.
County Manager reviews status of budget and summarization of major issues
Conference Session after Ways & Means Committee meeting                 

Oct. 21, Monday
County Manager files Recommended Budget with Legislature Clerk and releases budget information to the media

Oct. 23, Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.
County Manager provides overview of Recommended Budget to Legislature
Conference Session before Legislature Meeting

Nov. 6, Wednesday, 6 p.m.
Public Budget Hearing – County Manager’s Recommended Budget -- in Courthouse Chambers

Nov. 13, Wednesday, 4:30 p.m. 
Legislature considers feedback from Public Hearing and makes further recommendations
Conference Session before Legislature Meeting        

Nov. 20, Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.
Ways and Means Committee Budget Review with referral to full Legislature
Ways and Means Meeting

Nov. 25, Monday, 5:30 p.m.
Legislature Meeting – Budget Adoption

November 2, 2017 - 2:48pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, news.

Press release:

NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN, That the Genesee County Legislature will meet at the Genesee County Old Courthouse, 7 Main Street, Batavia, New York on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 at 6:30 p.m. for the purpose of holding a Public Hearing on the Tentative Genesee County Budget for 2018.

Further Notice is hereby given that a copy of said Tentative Budget will be available in the Office of the Clerk of the Legislature, 7 Main Street, Batavia, New York where it may be inspected by any interested person.

Pursuant to Section 359 of the County Law, the maximum salaries that may be fixed and payable during said fiscal year to members of the Genesee County Legislature and to the Chair, thereof, are hereby specified as follows:

  • Members of the Legislature $12,117 each
  • Chair of the Legislature $15,943
October 26, 2017 - 7:20pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news, notify.

The 2018 budget County Manager Jay Gsell is filing contains a property tax rate increase of six cents, to $10.13 per thousand of assessed value.

The manager's budget only becomes law if the County Legislature fails to pass a budget before the end of December.

At a meeting of the whole yesterday, no member of the Legislature expressed outright support for the increase and several said they oppose it and want to hold the rate at $10.07.

To do that, legislators will need to appropriate another $186,000 from reserve funds or find an equal amount of spending to cut.

Gsell's budget already calls for spending down the reserves again by $1 million.

“We’ve got the money, we should use it," said Chairman Ray Cianfrini. "I don’t think we should be hitting the public with another tax increase. Right or wrong, I think they think perception-wise that the Nursing Home money is money we have to apply toward this. I’m just throwing that out as my recommendation.”

Legislator Marianne Clattenburg said, “You’ve got to remember, people’s assessments went up, so their taxes are already going up.”

Both John Deleo and Ed DeJaneiro expressed opposition.

"I don’t think I could vote for a budget unless we went to $10.07," DeJaneiro said.

Now that Gsell has submitted the manager's budget, legislators will have two weeks before a public hearing to make their suggestions for fine-tuning the revenue and spending plans.

The county's spending plan for 2018 calls for a total expenditure of $130,180,842, which will be paid for by a combination of state and federal reimbursements and local property and sales taxes along with miscellaneous fees and use taxes.

The property tax levy under Gsell's plan is $29,492,783. That's an increase in the levy of $268,120, which is within the state's two-percent tax cap mandate.

That mandate is being made tougher by Albany. The Raise the Age law passed earlier this year -- which will bring more 16- and 17-year-olds accused of crimes into the Family Court system -- was written to withhold funds for reimbursements for additional expenses from the law to counties that fail to hold the line on the two-percent cap.

This is also the first year the county is not saddled with the expense of the Genesee County Nursing Home, with its 160 jobs (full-time equivalents) and $16 million budget, which was draining as much as $2 million from local taxpayers each year.

There remain 540 FTEs on the county's books. Personnel is the largest expenditure for the county, but the pressure of the expense has been mitigated the county's share of the state's pension program remaining flat for 2018, more employees falling under Tier IV of the pension program, and the cost-savings success of the county's health coverage program, which now has employees contributing 10 to 20 percent of the premiums.

Unfunded state-mandated expenses continue to eat up a good portion of the tax levy. The 8-9 programs cost local taxpayers $22,315,765, or 76 percent of the levy. Medicaid is $9.4 million of that expense.

In all, Department of Social Services provides health aid to 12,500 senior citizens, children and adults in need at a cost of $95 million (most of which is covered by State and Federal expenditures).  About 60 percent of the expenditure is for long-term nursing care.

Other unfunded mandates include indigent defense, pre-K/elementary handicapped education services, probation, mental health, the jail, Safety Net, family assistance, child welfare and youth detention, according to Gsell's budget message.

Another mandate Gsell knocks in his message is the requirement from Albany that counties give raises to district attorneys. On April 1, the DA's salary will go up to $193,000 and there's nothing local elected officials can do about it.

"This is merely a reflection of the unilateral and paternalistic attitude of Albany and the disregard for local county government fiscal constraints," Gsell said.

The most significant personnel change in the budget is the addition of a compliance officer, who will report the county manager and oversee compliance with state and federal regulation related to the more than $11 million in grants the county receives so that revenue isn't inadvertently jeopardized. 

"(The position) has been strongly recommended by our outside/consulting corporate compliance attorney and our independent auditors," Gsell said.

As for proceeds from the sale of the nursing home, DeJaneiro wanted to know if the state could mandate what the county does with the money. Gsell said that is one thing the state leaves entirely up to local discretion.

There are still accounts to settle related to the nursing home, so the final total of the proceeds (profits) from the $15 million sale is not yet available, but whatever the amount, it will likely be placed in the capital improvement fund.

DeJaneiro suggested it go to help pay for repairs to roads and bridges and Gsell said that is one possibility, but the county is looking at the state soon requiring the county to build a new jail with a potential price tag of $43 million.

As expenses continue to go up every year in a county budget that for years has held the line on tax increases and cut personnel and services year-after-year, one concern for legislators about the tax cap is if they don't raise the property tax by six cents, then the amount they can raise taxes in future years if dire circumstances require it is diminished.

To get around this Legislator Bob Bausch asked if the county could raise the rate by six cents and then on the tax bill immediately turn around and rebate property owners the six cents per thousand, thereby increasing the total amount of the levy without actually taking more from taxpayers.

"I think it’s sort of a gimmick," DeJaneiro said.

Bausch replied, "Of course it’s a gimmick. The whole thing is a gimmick," meaning the state's arbitrary tax cap.

"Fight gimmicks with gimmicks," Legislator Andrew Young observed.

No vote was taken on the budget. There will be another budget discussion next Wednesday.

October 19, 2017 - 3:04pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news, notify.

As County Manager Jay Gsell gets closer to pitching his proposed 2018 budget to county legislators, the focus in budget talks is on what staff positions will be created and which will be eliminated.

New positions might include a compliance officer, a first assistant district attorney, and a program coordinator in the Department of Mental Health.

On the way out are a child care worker in Social Services and a youth program specialist in the Youth Bureau.

Many of the positions being eliminated are reclassifications of jobs within the same department. For example, in Mental Health, two part-time clerk-typist positions become one full-time position. Public health is eliminating a principal financial support specialist but adding an administrative officer and part-time senior financial clerk-typist.

If a first assistant district attorney position is created in the District Attorney's Office, which is expected to go to Melissa Cianfrini at a salary of $111,783, an assistant district attorney position, with a salary of $91,915, will be eliminated.

The headline new position, however, is the compliance officer. The potential salary is $87,694 and the position will report to the county manager. The compliance officer will make sure the county is meeting all federal and state requirements for privacy, disability accessibility, health record privacy and other codes and regulations that are often tied to the grants the county receives from state and federal agencies.

“If Tim Yaeger or somebody wants to apply for a Federal grant, a Homeland Security grant, or some other kind of grant, they can the requirement of the grant, hand it to the compliance officer who can digest it and make sure we are currently meeting the requirements or what kind of changes do we need to make administratively to make sure we’re going to meet requirements,” said Matt Landers, assistant county manager.

There are millions of dollars in grants at stake in the county if the county fails to meet compliance requirements. 

The qualified job applicant will have a four-year degree and at least two years related work experience, or a master's degree and two years experience.

The Youth Bureau is eliminating a position because there's no guarantee the federal government is going to continue to fund Americorps. That program ends at the end of the year and the current director of the program will spend January and February winding down the program and then will be out of a job.

The Sheriff's Office is also asking to add two new positions, an assistant to the director of emergency communications, at a salary of $67,109, and an emergency services dispatcher, $43,128.

From the current budget draft, Gsell must trim $257,831 to arrive at a tax rate of $10.13, which keeps the tax levy increase within the tax cap limit. Without further cuts, the Legislature would need to approve a tax cap override. If the Legislature wants to get the tax rate down to this year's $10.07 per thousand of assessed value rate, Gsell will need to find $460,000 in additional spending cuts.

Gsell will present his draft budget and his annual budget message later this month.

December 15, 2016 - 11:22am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, news.

Along the way to settling on a 2017 county budget, the process wasn't without a bit of acrimony, but looking forward to future budgets, there may only be more pain ahead.

The County Legislature passed its budget last night, 7-2. It raises county property taxes to $10.07 per thousand of assessed value, creating a property tax levy of $28,699,115. The increase required the Legislature to vote to override the state's 2-percent cap on an increase of the levy.

Legislative Chairman Ray Cianfrini said he thought his colleagues could have done better and voted against the budget, which takes effect Jan. 1. 

"The county manager presented us with a proposed budget that used reserves to decrease the tax rate and keep us under the tax cap," Cianfrini said. "Now, we are rejecting it for a budget with an increase in the tax rate and that goes over the cap. I think we could have done better."

John Deleo also voted no. (Corrected)

The budget County Manager Jay Gsell presented in October took $1 million from the reserve fund and redirected $1 million in anticipated sales tax revenue that would typically go into the long-term capital project fund and cut the tax rate to $9.79.  

A report earlier from County Treasurer Scott German stated that if the county continued on the same path it had for the past eight years, of spending about $2 million in reserve funds per year, the county would be broke within five years.

That particularly concerned legislators Andrew Young and Bob Bausch and they initially pushed for a budget that took nothing from reserve funds. The problem they ran into: the Legislature couldn't find $2 million in spending to cut without cutting essential services, such as law enforcement; and they were no more happy with the idea of a tax rate approaching $10.50.

The compromise a draw on reserves of only $500,000, but that lowered the rate to only $10.25, so the legislators met again to try and find more spending cuts. They invited in Undersheriff William Sheron (the next sheriff), Public Defender Jerry Ader and District Attorney Lawrence Friedman to discuss cuts.

Out of that, the Sheriff's Office still gets its two new corrections officers, which will help save the overtime costs associated with deputies transporting female prisoners between courts and jail facilities in other counties, and Ader keeps his caseworker, which helps ensure criminal defendants meet their obligations, but Friedman won't get to promote ADA Melissa Cianfrini to his first assistant.

He's been without a first assistant for six years and the discussion over the promotion became contentious, with both Ray Cianfrini, Melissa's father-in-law, and Friedman suggesting that the reason some on the legislature didn't want to give her a raise is because she's a woman.

That suggestion didn't go over well with members of the Legislature, particularly Bausch, who pointed out he has three daughters, including one who is an attorney.

Future budget years don't promise to get any easier for a county that has already been through years and years of spending cuts, eliminating more than 100 jobs, keeping management pay about 95 percent of market value, delaying maintenance on infrastructure, reducing spending on support agencies, selling the nursing home and holding off on building a new jail.

All this in an environment where the state continues to mandate increases in spending -- this year, for example, forcing the county to increase the salary of the district attorney -- and a new White House administration that promises to eliminate the Affordable Health Care Act.

That, Gsell said, "will render asunder state and county budgets."

The AHC required the county to take on more Medicaid expenses, mainly by ensuring more people who are qualified for Medicaid are receiving Medicaid. The number of people locally who are enrolled in Medicaid has gone from 8,800 to 12,200.

The county's share of the expense is now $178,000 per week.

That expense won't be reduced if the AHC is repealed because the people currently receiving Medicaid will still be eligible for Medicaid, but the federal government's share of the expense, which flows through the state to the county, will be reduced.

That's a mandated expense the county can't legally avoid.

And the increase in enrollment is not without its benefits, Gsell said. It helps control expenses because people are in managed plans and are not relying on emergency rooms for their medical care.

And the fight continues with the state over other mandated costs. The state recently increased the standards for indigent legal defense and with the changes, there was supposed to be relief from the $1.2 million in county expense, but the bill that would make that change has lingered on the governor's desk.

That will be a topic of discussion next week, Gsell said, when representatives from all 52 counties in the state meet for their annual convention.

Meanwhile, work has already begun on the request of legislators to come up with a five-year plan for the county. There is a template recommended by the Comptroller's Office and the county's auditors for five-year planning, Gsell said, and staff has already started working through it.

That plan will set priorities, provide a framework and anticipate contingencies that may help with future budget discussions.

Also, last night, Cianfrini announced that discussions have begun at the most preliminary stages with Orleans County about building a regional jail.

December 8, 2016 - 12:03pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news.

Assuming the County Legislature passes its proposed 2017 budget next week, it will contain the largest property tax increase in recent memory, taking the rate from $9.86 per thousand to $10.07 per thousand of assessed value.

Nobody likes a tax increase, Ways and Means Chairman Bob Bausch noted after Wednesday's committee meeting where the new proposed tax rate was announced, but a 2-percent increase is far more manageable for most people than a 4- or 5- or 6-percent increase, all of which were on the table at one point during the budget talks over the past couple of months.

To get the rate down to $10.07, from a proposed rate of $10.25 a week ago, the Legislature had to come together on a proposal to withdraw another $500,000 from reserve funds -- a total of $1 million out of reserves --to balance the general fund.

The total property tax levy will be $28,969,114, a 2.13-percent increase over last year, which will require the Legislature to override the state's tax cap on levy increases.

It looks like Ray Cianfrini, the chairman of the Legislature, will be the sole dissenting vote on the 2017 budget. He thinks the tax rate can be lower. He thinks the county can afford to withdraw more money from the reserve to help keep the tax rate down.

"The budget being presented is a better budget than we had a week ago, but, again, I'm not going to support it," Cianfrini said.

Over the past dozen years, the county has not calculated into its projected revenue the proceeds of properties sold at the annual tax lien auction.

The count doesn't tally this up as anticipated revenue because it's so unpredictable. One year, the county brought in an extra $400,000 from the auction, but another year it was down to only $7,000 in revenue.

However, Cianfrini said, the average is $142,000. He would like the county to budget for at least some level of revenue from the auction.

Cianfrini is also concerned the county in its budget planning is not giving enough credit for the coming cost savings from the sale of the Genesee County Nursing Home and the boost that will give to the reserve fund balance.

After spending $1 million from the reserve, the county will have a fund balance of $7.7 million. The anticipated net proceeds from the nursing home sale will be more than $6 million, giving the county a fund balance in excess of $14 million.

That's a record amount, Cianfrini said.

"The fund balance is still taxpayer money," Cianfrini said. "It's money we collected from taxpayers and didn't spend. Whenever we have the opportunity, we should give that money back to the taxpayers."

No members of the Ways and Means Committee responded to Cianfrini during the meeting and the resolution to recommend budget approval to the full Legislature passed 4-1.

After the meeting, Bausch said he isn't comfortable counting on any amount of money coming from the sale of Nursing Home until all of the bills related to the sale are paid, which won't happen for another eight or nine months.

"At some point, we will know what those final numbers are," Bausch said. "We have made a significant commitment to our constituents to use that money for roads and bridges. Yes, there is a discussion to be had (about what to do with the money), but we're not anywhere near ready for that discussion."

December 7, 2016 - 6:25pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news.

A week of wrangling and discussions has helped county legislators come up with a 2017 budget that will increase the property tax rate to $10.07 per thousand dollars of assessed value.

A week ago, it was looking like the rate would be about $10.25 cents.

The rate still represents a jump over the 2016 rate of $9.86 and requires a tax levy override by the County Legislature.

While there were some minor spending adjustments made since last week, much of the change is rate is based on an agreement by the Legislature to take $1 million from reserve funds, rather than $500,000, to balance the budget.

At the Ways and Means Committee meeting tonight, only Legislator Ray Cianfrini voted against sending the budget to the full Legislature for approval. Cianfrini said he didn't think the proposed budget accounted enough for the anticipated sale of the Nursing Home, expected to close before the end of the year, and what that will mean for the county's reserve funds and expenditure savings.

The Batavian will have a more complete county budget story posted sometime tomorrow morning.

November 29, 2016 - 10:22am
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news.

When the Genesee County Legislature's Ways and Means Committee meets next week, it will be asked to support a county budget that will pull $500,000 from reserves to help balance the budget and raise property taxes to $10.25 per thousand of assessed value.

It won't return a first assistant DA position to the District Attorney's Office, a decision made on an 8-1 vote by the Legislature that prompted Chairman Ray Cianfrini to call his fellow members, "hypocrites."

While other budget matters were discussed during Monday's meeting, the proposal to provide District Attorney Lawrence Friedman with a first assistant -- a position that hasn't been filled in the department for six years -- dominated the conversation.

Friedman tried to make the case for the position, which he intended to fill with Melissa Cianfrini, Ray Cianfrini's daughter-in-law.

Both Friedman and Ray Cianfrini questioned whether the Legislature's reluctance to fill the position, or, more, it's seeming unwillingness to set the salary at what they believe the position is worth, is driven by gender bias.

Friedman exited the meeting quickly after the overwhelming vote against the position and Cianfrini (who cast the one vote in favor of the job) was out the door of the Old Courthouse as soon as the meeting was adjourned.

The position is necessary, Friedman said, because there should be a second-in-command when he's not in the office, there should be somebody else in the office who can handle budget and human resource matters and there should be somebody trained in other aspects of the DA's job because traditionally the first assistant DA becomes the next DA if the position becomes vacant. Friedman was first assistant before he became DA and Robert Noonan was a first assistant before he became DA.

The lack of a first assistant puts the DA's office at a disadvantage, Friedman suggested, against the Public Defender's Office, which only recently acquired its first top assistant, and also has an investigator and a case worker that the DA's office doesn't have and Friedman has never sought.

The county attorney also has a top assistant, and 60 of the 62 district attorneys in the state, including all of the smaller counties, have first assistants, and those offices often also have investigators.

The first assistant also traditionally covered a couple of specialty law areas, such as civil forfeitures, which can generate revenue for the county, and cybercrime and child pornography -- specialties that have gone uncovered by the Genesee County DA's office since Dave Gann retired six years ago.

Legislator Bob Bausch, one of the Legislators who initially questioned the need for a first assistant in the DA's office, said he wondered if it was necessary in an office where all the ADAs are professionals and in the day and age of digital communications.

"Yes, in this day and age, I am accessible, even on vacation, by email and text messages and I’m not complaining about that, but I believe there should be somebody who is trained and has the experience necessary to serve in my absence," Friedman said.

Legislator Marianne Clattenburg questioned why after five years it was suddenly an urgent need in the DA's office to have a first assistant.

Friedman made the point that after Gann left, he was asked to cut spending in 2011 and again in 2012, so he didn't think it was appropriate then to ask to backfill the position.

"I waited five years and I realize it’s never going to be restored unless I push it," Freidman said to explain why he's asking for the position now.

Other members questioned whether the position was really necessary since the office was able to operate six years without it.

"I guess I wonder why we would be penalized because I’ve tried to comply and not pushed and not asked for more money all the time and I’ve waited and I’ve waited and I just feel it’s time," Friedman said. "You know, you could make us wait forever obviously, but I don’t think we ever should have gone without that position, but we did. In a sense, I feel, we were not forced to, but it was the right thing to do at the time. I hate to see us penalized for doing the right thing back then."

Included in Monday's discussion was the potential salary of the reconstituted position. In his initial request, Friedman asked for an increase in his salary budget of $30,000. County Manager Jay Gsell knocked that down to about $9,000, to bring the salary in line with recommendations of a management salary study completed four years ago.

Friedman argued that Melissa Cianfrini is underpaid relative to her 17 years experience as a litigator and that her salary is only where it should be now because of a grant received through the Department of Social Services to pay for prosecution of welfare fraud cases.

Traditionally, the county has paid a new top assistant what that person's predecessor made, which is how Friedman arrived at the $30,000 above Melissa Cianfrini's current salary.

That seemed to be the pay range Ray Cianfrini was pushing for because the next undersheriff, Greg Walker, will be paid the same $89,000 salary outgoing undersheriff William Sheron made. That is a salary that is about $3,000 more than recommended by the four-year-old management salary report.

Ray Cianfrini said it seemed only fair that if Walker was paid according to what the previous undersheriff made, which will represent a pay cut for Walker, then the new first assistant in the DA's office should be paid what the previous first assistant made. Or they should both be paid according to the recommended salary structure.

At a previous meeting, Cianfrini first raised the concern that the Legislature's potential unwillingness to raise the salary for the position was driven by gender bias.

Friedman brought that subject up again Monday evening.

"All I can say is I hope the potential of different treatment of our office is not based on the gender of the person who is going to be receiving the position," Friedman said.

Bausch was the first to speak up and reject that suggestion, noting that he has three daughters, one who is an attorney, and a wife who worked professionally until she retired.

"With members of the press here, I just want to make this point, because I don’t want to be hassled when I go home," Bausch said. "Don’t accuse me of saying this was an issue based on the sex of the employee, because I’ve got four women who are going to kill me.”

With the 8-1 vote against creating the position, the salary question was moot, and Cianfrini wasn't happy.

"Amazing, absolutely amazing," the chairman said. "It makes me think about whether there are other agendas involved here. Ok, let’s go on to the next … you’re all a bunch of hypocrites as far as I’m concerned.”

Some legislators took the barb in good humor, with Legislator Shelly Stein piping up to ask a question, "Hypocrite Stein, here."

Another topic covered Monday was what if any personnel cuts should be made in the planning department, or how the department might generate revenue to cover its expenses. Director Felipe Oltramari said when he first took over the department, it was short staffed and over the past year, with better staffing, they have been able to catch up on a lot of work.

A cut in staffing might mean the department would need to eliminate some of the technical assistance it provides to towns and villages, which helps ensure consistency and conformity in the application of zoning and code enforcement on projects.  

Stein, among others, suggested that down the road, municipalities might be charged a fee for such support.

It's either that or reduce the amount of sales tax revenue shared with the municipalities.

Bausch and Legislator Andrew Young continued their push for a five-year plan for county government. 

Revenue and expense woes are only going to get worse, so a plan is needed.

Young is worried about a treasurer's report that suggests the county will fall into insolvency within five years unless it stops dipping into its reserve funds to balance the budget.

Bausch believes the county will be forced to build a new jail within five years and the expert advice given to the county is that they will need $18 million in reserves when that project goes out to bond. Currently, the county is about $11 million short and Bausch doesn't see how the county closes that gap on its current course.

November 22, 2016 - 10:25am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, news.

Here's something you don't hear often in the chambers of the Old County Courthouse: Members of the Genesee County Legislature raising their voices and talking over each other during a policy discussion.

Members of the normally decorous body got a little testy with each other at times Monday night during negotiations over the 2017 county budget that has no easy answers as state and federal mandates continue to drive up expenses, eating up more of what local taxpayers contribute to the county budget, leaving precious little left for essential local services.

A substantial property tax increase looks inevitable, bringing it up to a rate as high as $10.30 per thousand. That's a 5-percent increase in the levy. That would mean the Legislature would need to override the state-mandated tax levy increase, which the full body approved earlier in the evening.

As members chattered near the end of the discussion about what level of increase they could accept, Legislator Shelly Stein said, "We know we’re going over. We absolutely know we’re going over."

It's just a question of if they can find a way to cut expenses enough to shrink the size of the increase, and with each member of the Legislature having a good reason to protect this or that expenditure, reaching a consensus on what to cut is proving difficult. They agreed not to eliminate the request for two new corrections officers in the Sheriff's Office, nor to eliminate a road patrol position next year. They also won't eliminate a case worker position in the Public Defender's Office after PD Jerry Ader explained that the position legislators thought was grant funded really isn't. They couldn't agree on whether to make cuts in the planning department or the District Attorney's Office -- and County Manager Jay Gsell explained why a hiring freeze would be a bad idea.

Cuts to the highway department would leave an already depleted staff with fewer people to get road work done. You would have, Gsell said, all flagmen and no workers on road projects, for example. In social services, there has been a significant increase in case load post-Obamacare with no increase in staffing. Any cuts to the Department of Motor Vehicles would reduce county revenue. 

“We are a service business," Gsell said. "Even in this day and age with all the technology, the bottom line is, we deal with people, and most people on a face-to-face basis, and if we don’t, they still end up coming in our offices to get their problems resolved. If we were retail, we could do that kind of stuff, just stop hiring people, but then of course our shelves wouldn't get stocked."

Over the course of his tenure as county manager, Gsell said, the county has eliminated nearly 100 jobs, leaving all departments operating at a bare-minimum staffing level.

When Chairman Ray Cianfrini did a straw poll asking members what percentage of tax increase would members be willing to support, there was no support for a 7-percent or a 6-percent increase, but a passing majority was willing to go along with a 5-percent or 4-percent increase.

Cianfrini joked that he knew Legislator Andrew Young wants to hold it at zero percent, but Young said he raised his hand for 5 percent.

"I understand we’ve got to increase taxes," Young said. "We can’t help it and we should increase it less by cutting more is my opinion, but can’t allow ourselves to become insolvent either. "

The potential of insolvency is a real concern for Young, who has raised it several times during budget discussion. The concern is a big reason legislators are unwilling to take more than $500,000 from reserves to help balance the budget and don't want to transfer nearly $1 million in anticipated sales tax revenue from the road and bridge fund and use it to balance the 2017 budget.

Young, Robert Bausch and Marianne Clattenburg are all arguing that the county needs to come up with a five-year plan that will guide budgeting decisions, with more data and some anticipation of the variables the county might face on revenue and spending in the coming years.

"I've never been part of an organization that didn't have a plan for the future, and we don't have a plan," Young said.

If the budget process doesn't start sooner next year, Bausch said, and there's no budget discussion prior to an October meeting, then that meeting might as well be canceled right now because it will be a waste of time.

The Legislature will meet at 5 p.m. Monday to discuss the budget again.  

November 16, 2016 - 10:26pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news.

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There seems to be no path county legislators can go down with the 2017 county budget that doesn't hurt taxpayers.

Nobody wants to see a tax increase, especially one that is higher than the state-mandated tax cap, but that's exactly what is under consideration by the nine-member body.

Legislators must also decide whether to spend tomorrow's money today or make drastic cuts in personnel that will leave taxpayers with curtailed essential services.

The hard choices discussed at a meeting Wednesday night left everybody a bit frustrated, Chairman Ray Cianfrini most of all, who said if the legislators can't reach a consensus and pass a budget by Dec. 14, the county will be left, by law, with the budget proposal originally drafted by County Manager Jay Gsell.

"If we're not careful, the budget we get will be Jay's budget, which is the budget we all like the least," Cianfrini said.

That budget doesn't raise taxes -- though it does increase the tax levy above the state-mandated level -- but it grabs two big buckets of money the county will need in future years and spends it in 2017.

Gsell's budget is balanced because it takes $1 million in sales tax revenue that would normally be rolled over into funding for future capital projects, such as roads and bridges, and it draws down the county's reserve funds by yet another $1 million.

The tax rate for local property owners would be $$9.76 per thousand of assessed value, which is slightly lower than 2016 rate, but because of an increase in assessed value for county properties, would actually raise more money.

Because of the state's tax-cap formula, which adjusts the cap based on changes to assessed value, the county can't approve a rate above $9.86 without overriding the tax cap.

That's something the legislators seem willing to do under the circumstances.

None of them like the idea of diverting sales tax revenue away from roads and bridges (and the likelihood the county will be forced to build a new jail within the next five years), so that proposal is no longer under consideration.

But legislators can't agree on whether to tap into reserve funds to balance the budget. There's no more than four votes for that option, even if the amount taken from reserves is reduced to $500,000.

"I'm much more concerned about what's going to happen long term," said Legislator Bob Bausch. "I'm not willing to have my kids and my grandkids paying our bills."

Legislator Andrew Young was adamant that the Legislature needs a plan to ensure the county's financial viability before he could agree to spend any more reserves.

"We're working on deficit budgets and eventually that's going to catch up with us." Young said. "We need to put a pencil to this budget and cut things."

Young noted that Treasurer Scott German has warned that if the county continues to spend down reserves, it's looking at insolvency within five years.

To that end, Young was ready to push for the Legislature to eliminate the two corrections officer positions requested by the Sheriff's Office, but also leave unfilled a road patrol vacancy that will open up at the beginning of the year.

That would save the county about $200,000 in 2017.

Cianfrini said if that was part of the final budget, he would have to vote no. The Legislature was split on whether to then eliminate just the two CO positions or just the deputy position.

The reason the Sheriff requested the CO positions is those new hires could start handling prisoner transports for female prisoners between Genesee County's courts and the county jails where they are housed (because Genesee County's jail can't house female prisoners). The county is facing rapidly rising overtime costs because of the transports and road patrol shifts are sometimes short of manpower.

Bausch and Legislator John Deleo were both opposed to any significant tax increase, especially the nearly $1 million increase needed to make up for not spending reserves and not diverting sales tax revenue.

Even when asked to consider spending only $500,000 of reserves, Deleo looked at the potential tax rate, shook his head and muttered, "that's just too much."

He said he was concerned about the burden on taxpayers in the city.

"People tell me all the time to hold the tax cap," Deleo said. "They stop me in the street. But even if we hold it to the 2016 rate, we can't make this work. It's just unreal."

Bausch said there is another constituency to seriously consider -- farmers, who own most of the land in the county.

"Even a 10-cent increase would have a big negative impact on our farmers and they're the number one industry in the county," Bausch said.

There will be some budget relief once the county closes on its deal to sell the County Nursing Home, but the impact will mostly be a one-time benefit and not help the longer term, growing fiscal crisis facing the county.

The legislature meets again on Monday evening to take up the budget discussion once again and see if they can come to an agreement on taxes and spending for 2017.

The total proposed buget for 2017 is $146,249,625, which includes all expenses covered by all funding sources, including revenue received from various other funding sources besides property and sales tax. A property tax of $9.76 per thousand would raise $27,844,499 (the tax levy). The county is also budgeting for about $18 million in sales tax revenue. A large proportion of the county's expenditures are mandated by state law and can't be eliminated.

November 10, 2016 - 12:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, news.

There will be a public hearing at 5:30 p.m., Nov. 21, where the public can speak on the question of whether the county government should pass a resolution to override the state's property-tax cap.

The County Legislature is considering passing the resolution as a safety valve in case budget constraints require it to increase the tax levy above the state's 2-percent limit.

Passage of the resolution does not mean the tax levy will increase above the tax cap amount, but it will provide the legislature with that option if during budget discussions it's deemed necessary.

The hearing will be held in the Old Courthouse, 7 Main St., Batavia.

October 27, 2016 - 1:22pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in nursing home, budget, genesee county, news.

As County Manager Jay Gsell and the Legislature work on finalizing the 2017 budget, it's been a bit of a nail-biter for county officials wondering if they would be able to close on the sale of the Nursing Home before Dec. 31.

Without the close, the county would need to include nearly $16 million in expenses and offsetting revenue in the budget.

Back in May, the NYS Health Department approved the certificate of need ("CoN" -- a kind of license) 160-bed care facility, but officials had gotten no word on the other CoN for the 80-bed adult home.

All along, Gsell felt the sale would be finalized before the end of the year, but without final approval, there was no way to count on it.

Yesterday, an executive with the prospective Nursing Home buyer, Premier Health LLC, got a phone call from a state official saying the certificate of need was approved and an official letter should be dropped in the mail today.

"At least now we have a very good sense that this is actually going to happen in the calendar year 2016," Gsell said.

Once the letter is in hand, both sides can start working on the details of closing the sale, including transferring employees and contractors, completing paperwork, and finalizing how to handle accounts receivable, among other details.

That will be a three- or four-week process, Gsell said.

The county will get about $15 million for the nursing home, but after expenses, only about 25 percent of those proceeds will be available for either the general fund or the capital fund.

Gsell was able to share the good news with legislators yesterday during a budget work session.

There were no decisions that came out of yesterday's budget discussion. The legislators have a 292-page, $141 million budget to pore through as they grapple with their options for the tax rate, deficit spending or any big spending cuts that they might make.

Gsell's budget is balanced, but it requires pulling $1 million from reserve funds and reallocating sales tax revenue from future road and bridge repairs to the 2017 general fund.

A $15 million increase in assessed value, of which about $7 million is taxable, for properties in the county, makes the break-even tax rate for the 2016 vs. 2017 tax levy at $9.66 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Gsell's budget proposal increases the tax levy by $645,000, the maximum increase under the state's tax cap law.

That would set the 2017 property tax rate from the county at $9.76 per thousand of assessed value, or 10 cents lower than 2016.

The Legislature will consider whether to pass a resolution authorizing them to override the tax cap limit to raise taxes. Because of timing and budget deadline issues, the resolution will need to be passed before they even get to the point of deciding what the tax rate should be.

It's a policy decision for the legislature whether to accept Gsell's budget as proposed, raise taxes to reduce deficit spending, or make significant cuts in non-mandated services, such as parks and law enforcement.

October 25, 2016 - 11:08am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, news.

His proposed county budget for 2017 is bare-bones and no-frills, County Manager Jay Gsell told Legislators in his annual budget message, delivered as his office wraps up putting together a tax and expense plan that meets the county's obligation to continue state-mandated programs, keeps local services in place and doesn't call on officials to raise taxes above tax cap levels.

Increasing state-manded funding obligations continue to burden local taxpayers, with no relief in sight, Gsell said.

"The continued disregard of New York State's culpability in the county tax rate increases over the past 40 years is something we have learned to live with, but to be additionally mocked by Albany for not being able to control our expenses or tax rates, and blaming us for 'living with these unfunded mandates' is disingenuous at best and necessitate county governments cutting non-mandated, quality-of-life programs, reducing funding for vital community agency programs and depleting our fund balance in lieu of 10- to 30-percent property tax levy increases, neither option of which is sustainable nor logical in tax-happy New York State," Gsell wrote.

Examples of mandated expenses without concurrent state aid is Medicaid, an expenditure equivalent to 80 percent of the county's tax levy. The county is also being forced to pick up more of the cost of legal defense for suspects unable to pay for their own attorney. Unreimbursed legal services costs now exceeds $1.2 million. The state is also mandating an increase in District Attorney pay from $152,500 to $183,350. 

Gsell's budget once again dips into the county's reserve funds, to the tune of $1 million, and transfers $1.1 million in anticipated sales tax revenue from future projects, such as road and bridges, to spend the money in 2017. It also cuts 10 percent of the funding requests for several local agencies, including Genesee County Economic Development Center, libraries, the Holland Land Office Museum, and the Soil & Water Conservation District.

Shuffling the deck chairs enables Gsell to present a balanced budget that keeps the tax levy under the tax cap level.

The proposed tax rate is $9.76 per thousand of assessed value for a total levy of $27,844,499.

Any drastic changes in Gsell's proposed budget, such as raising the tax rate above tax cap levels, or cuts to essential services, what Gsell previously called "the nuclear option," are policy decisions best left to members of the County Legislature, Gsell said.

The legislature meets at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow in the conference room of the Old Courthouse to discuss the proposed budget.

As mandated expenses continue to grow and the county facing potentially large bills for infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, and possibly a new jail, Gsell warns in his budget message that the county may have to consider in 2018 pulling back the 50/50 share of sales tax revenue with towns and the city. The county isn't required to share sales tax revenue and expenses for local roads and bridges falls almost entirely on county government.

October 20, 2016 - 2:29pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news.

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Legislators are faced with a number of hard choices as the county's 2017 budget comes together.

Increases in mandated spending, increases in personnel expenses, flat sales tax revenue and unsettled questions about expenses related to the soon-to-be-former Genesee County Nursing Home means the county needs to raise more money than allowed by the tax levy cap.

County Jay Gsell laid out several options for the legislators, except one, but Chairman Ray Cinifrinit put it on the table: Voting to override the tax cap limit.

To override, the Legislators would have to hold a public hearing and then vote on a resolution. That would have to be done before completion of the budget process, so approving the resolution wouldn't necessarily mean there would be a tax increase above the cap amount.

"I'm suggesting that we at least pass the resolution," Cianfrini said. "That's just good planning."

Gsell said he won't submit a budget proposal, which is due within 48 hours, that includes a tax increase above the cap amount.

The formula for figuring the cap takes into account the $14 million in increased assessed value for real property in the county, but the county can only use a portion of that increase for any pre-cap increase in the levy.

If the county were to raise no more money from the levy than in 2016, it would put the tax rate for the county at $9.69 per thousand of assessed value.

The rate can't go past $9.86 to stay under the levy cap. 

If Gsell accepted all of the funding requests by various county departments, which by direction were already frugal requests, the tax rate would be $10.27.

To get the rate down to at least $9.86, Gsell said there will be no new hires for county staff, except two new corrections officers, and he's looking at using $1 million from the county's reserves, as well as diverting 1 percent of the sales tax that would normally go to next year's capital projects (think roads and bridges), for another $800,000 in savings. He's also cutting 10 percent from all non-mandated services, except for mental health related services, Genesee Community College and the Chamber of Commerce (the tourism office helps generate revenue for the county and gets funding from the hotel bed tax).

Here's the list of programs and agencies slated for a 10 percent cut from their funding requests:

  • GO-ART!
  • Business Education Alliance
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Holland Land Office Museum
  • Housing Initiative Committee
  • Genesee County Economic Development Center
  • Libraries
  • Mercy Flight
  • Soil & Water Conservation District

Legislator Andrew Young expressed concern about the county once again dipping into reserve funds to balance a budget. He noted that practice can't last forever. He is also concerned about diverting funds from capital projects when the county is looking at a $15 million bill for road and bridge repairs over the next five years.

So take those two revenue diversions off the table, that leaves Legislators with two big options -- raise taxes above the levy cap, or go to what Gsell called "the nuclear option," the "scorched earth policy."

That option is completely eliminating a service the county currently provides but isn't mandated by state law. Those options include closing county parks and eliminating the road patrol deputies in the Sheriff's Office.

Such drastic cuts could also include elimination all funding for the nine programs and services listed above.

"If they (the legislators) don't like what I recommend in terms of how the revenues are put together," Gsell said after the meeting, "that's when I have to go back to the expense side of the equation and get rid of $1 million to $2 million worth of expenses."

But Gsell warned legislators that drastic cuts will certainly bring about intense pushback from the community.

"We tried that with Genesee Justice a few years ago and I believe there were 200-plus people at a public hearing over in the court facility," Gsell said. "Everybody and the kitchen sink came in and said that's the worse thing the county has ever thought of, let alone tried to do as far as county government goes. So that's just a caution."

The two-and-a-half hour meeting Wednesday also included a lengthy discussion about how to eliminate some of the overtime costs within the Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Gary Maha, Undersheriff William Sheron (top photo), Chief Deputy Gordon Dibble and Jail Superintendent William Zipfel participated in the conversation.

The two main areas of overtime expense are deputies in training with their four-hour daily commute to and from basic training in either Niagara Falls or Monroe County and prisoner transport of female inmates between Genesee County, which doesn't have a jail that can house female inmates, and the jails in the area that can accept female prisoners.

Currently, deputies are taken off of road patrol for transports.

The Sheriff's Office budget requested three new corrections officers to handle the transports, but the discussion headed toward a proposal to hire two new corrections officers and find retired law enforcement officers to work part-time help with transports.

County Attorney Charles Zambito, soon-to-be County Judge Zambito, said once he's judge he can probably make sure the calendar is adjusted to ensure prisoners to be transported are scheduled for appearances in batches, reducing the number of transport trips. 

Jail expense is also going up, Zipfel said, because of the changing demographics of the jail population. There is more time and expense with medical transportation and dealing with mental health issues, including more one-on-one watches for inmates who may be suicidal.

"The jail population is aging and getting sicker with every month that goes by," Zipfel said. "We're encountering more people who have drug and alcohol addictions, more people who are older. We've had several people recently in their 70s and 80s who are getting sentenced because of drug and alcohol addictions."

The legislature will meet again on the budget next Wednesday.

November 19, 2015 - 6:47am
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget.

County government is moving toward passage of a budget for 2016 that holds the line on the tax rate for local propety owners.

Wednesday, the Ways and Means Committee recommended approval of a $27,199,344 spending plan that keeps the tax rate $9.86 per thousand of assessed value for 2016, the same as 2015.

With increases in assessed value throughout the county, that rate will still provide the county with an overall growth in the tax levy by $323,051.

County Manager Jay Gsell said the county was able to trim off three cents from the original 2016 proposed rate by keeping the belts tight on government appropriations.

"We basically said to all the departments and agencies of county government, particularly the outside agencies, 'No increase in funding requests, and to the county departments, we want you to hold the line as much as possible,' " Gsell said.

It helps, Gsell said, that the state has capped how much it demands from the county for the local share of Medicaid funding. In each of the past two years, the county hasn't been asked to pay more than $9.3 million. In the past, that number would go up 8 percent or more each year, Gsell said.

The budget includes a full year of anticipated deficit spending to keep the county nursing home operating, though the Legislature anticipates the county will be out of the nursing home business before the close of 2016. There is a purchase offer in place with a private company that will take over operations and ownership of the property.

The spending plan includes appropriating about $2 million from the county's fund balance (or general fund cash reserves). That's a smaller draw on the fund balance than previous years. Primarily, spending fund reserves is a way of smoothing the county's cash flow throughout the year. It helps maintain the nursing home and covers beginning-of-the-year shortfalls while the county waits for property tax payments to roll in. In the previous years of fund-balance spending, the county has still finished the year in the black and at the end of 2014 the reserves stood at $10.5 million.

The budget process has gone well, said Ray Cianfrini, chairman of the Legislature, because the legislators, on the whole, want to be responsible about how they handle taxpayers' money.

"I think it's fair to say the mindset of most all of the legislators is pretty fiscally conservative and we're very conscious of the fact that we're elected by the public and we want to make sure the public is getting the best bang for the buck," Cianfrini said.

It was a priority to hold the line on the tax rate, Cianfrini said.

"Nobody likes to raise taxes unless it's necessary and the first thing we always look for in the budget process is 'Are we able to hold the rate down?' " Cianfrini said. "Last year we had a reduction of 16 cents per thousand, so I think going into this year's budget our mindset was we would prefer not to raise taxes."

Holding the line meant asking department heads to keep down spending, not hire more staff, postpone some projects or equipment purchases. Even so, Cianfrini said, county residents will still get a responsive, functioning county government.

"I personally feel this budget meets all the needs of the smooth operation of the county government," Cianfrini said. "Now, if we talk to the department heads, I'm sure the department heads would love to have more personnel, certainly. Talk to the Sheriff, talk to other people in different departments, would they like more? Yeah, absolutely they'd like more, but it comes with a cost. They all seem to be willing to work within the budget we presented."

November 5, 2015 - 8:09am
posted by Raymond Coniglio in batavia, budget.

The prospect of the town’s first property tax levy in more than three decades accomplished at least one thing Wednesday night. It drew an interested crowd to Town Hall.

About a half-dozen residents spoke during what amounted to two public hearings regarding the proposed 2016 town budget, which calls for a property tax levy of $500,000 and a tax rate $1.42 per $1,000 assessed value.

Speakers shared their concerns about the proposed tax levy, complimented the board for its work and asked questions about the budget — questions Supervisor Greg Post welcomed.

But little was offered to change the town’s dismal budget outlook.

“I am open to anything that would do a better job than what we have done,” Post said. “And I would welcome any opportunities to change the metrics and to try to reduce our exposure and still sustain the community.

“The next 30 years are going to be tougher than the last 30,” he said.

Those “metrics” include more than a decade of relying on cash reserves to balance the town budget, combined with decreasing sales tax revenue, stagnant investment income and rising costs.

The result is a proposed 2016 budget that calls for $4.64 million in general fund spending, a decrease of $300,000 from this year. The budget would use $600,000 from cash reserves, which would leave a projected fund balance of $1.4 million.

The public hearing on the proposed budget was Wednesday night. Also on the agenda, was a public hearing on proposed Local Law No. 5, which would override the state-imposed 2-percent cap on property tax increases.

The board took no action on either issue. A work session is scheduled for Nov. 10, and the board will likely vote on the 2016 budget and tax cap override when it meets on Nov. 18, Post said.

Speakers during Wednesday’s hearing said a new tax would be tough to bear.

“We have a lot of senior citizens in our town, that are not going to get a cost of living raise (next year),” said Cheryl Kowalik, of Alexander Road.

And breaking the property tax cap, she said, means those same residents will not receive a property tax rebate check from Albany next year.

“We’ve been conscious of that for a long, long time,” Post said. “It’s a big part of every budget conversation every single year.”

Post said instituting a tax levy was a decision that could no longer be postponed. It’s been the subject of “heated” discussions since budget talks began this past summer.

The proposed budget, he said, is one of three spending plans he’s compiled this year — and it is essentially a compromise.

The first version included no tax levy but would have slashed reserves to a risky level.

The second plan, set aside a more robust reserve fund. But it included a $1 million levy, with a $2.84 per $1,000 assessed value property tax rate.

Ultimately, the board agreed to spend just $600,000 in cash reserves and impose a $500,000 tax levy.

“With the understanding,” Post said, “that we will continue to whittle away the use of the unexpended fund balance, and reduce our spending to the same degree we reduced it this year.”

Bob Zeagler, of Donahue Road, called for more immediate spending cuts.

“Please don’t add more taxes to us already overburdened taxpayers,” Zeagler told the board. “Go back and start cutting and trimming, everywhere and anywhere, with a very sharp chainsaw — raises included.”

Post said the proposed budget calls for pay increases of 3 percent, on average.

Freezing wages might make good politics, he said. But it would make little practical difference in the budget, and would hurt town services. 

“I knew what my job was when I took office,” Post said. “But the responsibility of all of you in this room, and every resident of this town … is to find someone who can do this job better than me, for less money.”

The Town Board schedules work sessions every week, he said, and the Town Hall doors are always open.

“You want transparency in government? We’ve had 500 meetings — no one attends,” he said. “We still have them; no one shows up.”

Residents need to be “watchdogs,” Post said.

“If there is a concern with the level of service any of you have received from any of our staffers,” he said, “I will listen, and we will investigate. Every staffer here — every person that’s employed — starts from zero every year in July and they have to justify their wage and what they do.

"We do absolutely our best to reduce the costs and still attract and retain and encourage people to do more. It’s a delicate walk.”

No one spoke during two additional public hearings scheduled Wednesday concerning water and sewer rates for May 2016 through February 2017.

The proposed sewer rents are $5.62 per 1,000 gallons in sewer districts Nos. 1 and 2. The proposed base water rate is $4.95 per 1,000 gallons and the proposed agricultural water rate is $3.31 per 1,000 gallons.

October 22, 2015 - 1:33pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget.

The county serves the public, and increasingly, the public is online, which is why County Manager Jay Gsell thinks the county needs a stronger and more consistent digital presence.

In his 2016 budget, he's proposing a new position in the county's IT department that would be responsible for the county's Web site and its social media activity, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

"There is also a difference in generations in how they deal with us," Gsell said. "They are different in where they go for their information, where they look for information and how they interact with county government whether they're asking questions, registering complaints or things of that nature."

The county's Web site could be more user-friendly, but more importantly, Gsell said, it could contain more information that is more current and timely and relevant to residents.

"We're the public sector -- if we're not public and media friendly, we suck," Gsell said. "We're also not doing our job. The idea is to put information out and give it out so the public can access it."

Increasingly, people want to find their information and interact with government and businesses in social media, and the county should be where the public is, Gsell said, which means an active presence on Facebook and Twitter, for example.

"If you don't have a more duel-enabled communication, you're missing out on how you connect with people, how people connect with your services, how they issue complaints, how they issue praise in some cases, or even how we deal with some things we change, for instance, taking on credit card payments in the Treasurer's Office," Gsell said.

The salary for the new position will be about $35,000 and represent a total expenditure with benefits and related expenses of $58,000.

The position is part of a $106,756,416 spending plan being proposed by Gsell.  

On the revenue side, Gsell is proposing a $27,283,304 tax levy with a $9.89 tax rate per thousand of assessed value. That is a 3-cent increase over the 2015 tax rate.

One new position previously proposed that didn't make the budget is an additional Sheriff's deputy with a primary responsibility to keep a sharp eye out for drunken drivers.

The position would have been funded through STOP-DWI money -- fines levied against convicted drunken drivers -- but Gsell said he could tell the idea wasn't going over well with a majority of the Legislature, so he dropped the proposal from the budget. He said the consensus among legislators seemed to be that even if the position was legal and above board, it might engender the perception that there was a level of entrapment in the strategy to catch more drunken drivers. Any case of actual entrapment could open the county up to litigation, something the Legislature would like to avoid.

"It's not like it was, 'Oh, my, this is the best thing since pockets,' so we said, 'You know what, it's not worth the angst and having the legislators have a discomfort as we're trying to present a hundred plus million proposal to let that become the litmus test of what's going on for 2016,' so we pulled it out," Gsell said.

The budget also includes an increase in hours for the County Attorney, making the job a full-time position. The additional 7.5 hours per week means an additional $30,000 in salary and a total increase in expenditure for the position of $37,095, but that cost is offset, Gsell said, by a decrease elsewhere in the budget for contracted fees for outside counsel.  

The budget proposal also includes a new public health sanitarian in the health department and a new case manager in Genesee Justice. Gsell said the case load at Genesee Justice has started to overwhelm the current staff hours in that department.

Ray Cianfrini, chairman of the Legislature, also floated the idea that members of the body should consider whether it's time for a pay raise for legislators. There was no further discussion of the idea after he threw mentioned it.

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