County officials knew at the start of the journey that 2009 would be a rocky road, and there were many valleys to pass through, but the county managed to ride it out without raising taxes or severely cutting services.
That's the state of the county, according to Mary Pat Hancock, chairwoman of the Genesee County Legislature.
Hancock reviewed 2009 and looked ahead some during her annual address in the Legislature chambers Wednesday night.
"In addition to the known and announced reduction in state aid, we had many fiscal surprises, none of them good," said Hanckock. "They ranged from delayed payment for mandated and already provided services, to lower sales-tax revenues and to retroactive cuts in reimbursements. These continue to plague us. I am not an alarmist, this county has good and varied resources and will survive, but not by hiding its head in the sand -- the fiscal crisis is far from over."
Key points from tonight's address:
- The rising cost of operating the Genesee County Nursing Home. General Fund contributions to its operation are expected to exceed $4.4 million by 2014.
- GCEDC participated in 23 projects with an investment in the county of $50 million.
- The number of Genesee County families turning to the Department of Social Services for Medicaid, Food Stamps and Home Energy Assistance continues to grow. Also up are reports to Child Protective Services for investigation. "It’s not an easy task to raise children in the best of circumstances, and the job becomes even harder when so many of our residents are struggling with their financial difficulties," Hancock said.
- More than 6,000 residents have received seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccines.
- The downturn in the county has contributed to an ever-increasing caseload for the Office of the Public Defender.
- Federal stimulus money has meant the Job Development Bureau has seen its budget double. The number of clients in job training has increased 93 percent.
- Genesee Community College’s enrollment hit an all-time record during the fall 2009 semester with 7,208 credit students.
After listing these and other departmental challenges and accomplishments, Hancock said:
"It is impossible for me to end this address without acknowledging the impact of this difficult year on our constituents. We relate to the high level of frustration and fear experienced as jobs were lost, retirement funds shrank and healthcare costs soared. Change was promised in good faith, but no one anticipated the type of change. It is said that the economy is back on track. Genesee County’s unemployment is the lowest in the area, but it is still too high. Small and large businesses are still struggling. Folks are having a hard time meeting their financial obligations. We hear you and will continue to do everything possible to contain the costs and support and attract and retain 'economy builders.'"
Hancock then called on the State Legislature to clean up its act and start governing with greater fiscal responsibility.
"It is all about jobs," Hancock said. "All efforts should focus on a new and improved economic development plan for New York State. Is it impossible? No. Empower local governments, regional governments like counties, individually or acting in groups, to attract and maintain jobs to turn the state around. Counties should have a say about what industries contribute to their communities."
Hancock closed with a call for all county residents to participate in the 2010 Census.
"It is crucial to return your form," Hancock said. "Take the 10 minutes to be counted. So much depends on the data received from this one effort. Do what you can to make this an accurate count."