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September 3, 2020 - 8:54pm

The Genesee County Legislature is proposing an $8 million revenue distribution to its towns and villages in 2021.

Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein on Wednesday said that is the revised offer for revenue sharing, noting that it represents about a 44-percent decrease in what the county originally had planned to distribute, before COVID-19 disrupted its financial outlook.

“At our last conference call with municipal leaders, I think it was on Aug. 22, we gave them a number – eight million dollars to be shared for the 2021 budget, so they have a number,” Stein said. “So, if that is something that would be easier for them to comprehend and to see, our county manager is ready to put that out in an email form to folks so they can have something they can budget to for 2021.”

County Manager Matt Landers said the legislature had envisioned allocating $14,294,065 but had to revise its thinking due to the negative effects of the coronavirus on the economy.

“We will be providing a specific figure – based on the $8 million proposal -- for each town and village to budget off of shortly,” he added.

Stein repeated the refrain she has used since the county, in May, decided to rescind the county treasurer’s authority to make voluntary quarterly revenue distributions to the towns and villages – effectively ending agreements with the municipalities passed in 2018 and 2019.

Despite that action, the county made distributions of $1.1 million and $2 million to the municipalities in the second quarter of 2020, following a (pre-COVID-19) $3 million distribution in the first quarter.

“We are all in this together,” she said. “We’re all working through this in the same way but it’s still ‘mud’ until we get out of it.”

She said payments are determined by the taxable assessed value of each community.

“(It’s) a process that has been used in the past – so that seems like a fair and equitable way to distribute it,” she said. “We all need something from which to budget to, and realize how difficult it is without any foundation to build a budget from – so absolutely.”

Stein said that the picture could brighten (or become dimmer) as revenue comes in this fall, but was quick to point out that the closure of Six Flags Darien Lake throughout the summer is a major blow.

Landers said he is hopeful the county could do more to help keep town and village property tax rates as low as possible.

“This is a conservative estimate of what the county will be able to provide in funding for 2021 to the towns and villages,” he said. “As the county’s budget season progresses, we will re-evaluate that amount.”

He provided a snapshot of distributions since 2018, explaining that the county budget is comprised of a variety of different revenues, from state and federal reimbursements, property taxes, sales tax, fees for service, interest income, etc.

“When the county determines what it can share in revenue, it is looking at the overall financial picture,” he said.

  • Distribution in 2018 -- Genesee County shared sales tax with towns and villages amounting to $14,335,643.41.
  • Distribution in 2019 -- Genesee County shared sales tax with towns and villages amounting to $14,368,445.17.
  • Distribution in 2020 -- Genesee County has not distributed any sales tax to towns and villages because it only shares sales tax with the City of Batavia for the next 40 years. Genesee County has distributed $6,179,543.09 in other revenue to towns and villages for the first two quarters – a 7.6-percent decrease from what was originally planned.

News that the county has provided a tentative distribution amount will make the jobs of town supervisors and village mayors a bit easier as they devise their budgets for 2021.

“We have been calling upon the county to put a number in writing, and if it is $8 million, then that’s a step in the right direction,” said Le Roy Town Supervisor Jim Farnholz. “Without something to go by, it’s not possible to put a budget together.”

Farnholz, who took office in January after two years on the town board, said the Town of Le Roy budgeted $1.2 million in revenue sharing from Genesee County in revenue in 2020.

A 44-percent decrease would put that figure at $672,000 for 2021.

“If I know that we would have to mitigate $300,000 or $400,000 or so, it puts us in a much better position, considering that we have $1.6 million in reserves, he said. “But it needs to be in writing -- what number is the county willing to share? -- so that we can budget.”

The retired Le Roy Central School teacher said most of his counterparts at the town and village levels agree that a working dollar amount is necessary.

“Our position is that we’re even willing to take a little bit more of a hit (due to the county being stuck with so many state-mandated costs),” he said. “Back in May when this started, we had a discussion – one of the plans put forward at a GAM (Genesee Association of Municipalities) meeting was whatever percentage in revenue the county is down, the towns should be down the same percentage.”

He said he had a conversation with Stein prior to learning that the $8 million was a solid number.

“I told Shelly, this is business. When we conduct business – when I go buy a car or Stein Farms goes and buys a tractor, we have an agreement that has dollar figures attached to it. I don’t think Bob Johnson (Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac in Le Roy) is going to give me a Chevy if I promise to pay him just on good faith,” he said.

July 19, 2020 - 6:35pm

Whether you call it cooperation, consolidation or collaboration, the concept of municipalities engaging in shared services agreements likely will become a hot ticket item as time goes on.

Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell said he believes New York State leaders increasingly will look favorably upon counties, cities, towns and villages that pool their resources toward a goal of more efficient government.

And in this period of COVID-19 -- the cause of game-changing reductions in revenues, Gsell agrees that sharing services are more crucial than ever.

“Realistically, yes, I think they are -- at least to have that kind of notification back to the state that here are the things we’re considering,” he said, following the submission of the county’s 2019 shared services plan to the Genesee County Legislature for possible adoption this week.

Currently, Genesee County is contemplating shared services opportunities in the areas of criminal justice/law enforcement, water systems, weights and measures, procurement and real property assessment with its partner municipalities as well as neighboring counties.

After the county held three public hearings as required by law, its Ways & Means Committee voted in favor of the plan, which, upon approval, would be forwarded to the Department of State, Genesee Association of Municipalities and eight local school districts.

The resolution is on the agenda of the full legislature's meeting this Wednesday.

Gsell said this is the county’s second shared services proposal in accordance with the state’s “soft mandate” (the first was submitted in 2018).

The new plan prioritizes two projects: county assistance with the City of Batavia’s upgraded water system and a joint Genesee/Orleans county jail to replace the current jail on West Main Street.

He said that he sees these two ventures as prime candidates for state funding under the shared services program – as long as funding continues to be made available.

“By helping the City improve its water system – which it already is addressing in the areas of lead services and new water meters -- it can revert to retail,” Gsell said. “With that in place, we can help make sure that all the rates across the county are uniform.”

As far as building a new jail, Gsell said Genesee County has a designed facility (near County Building 2 on West Main Street Road) ready to go out to bid, but is on a temporary pause due to the coronavirus.

“One of us builds it, the other one hosts their inmates and we have a longstanding funding agreement to do that,” he said.

Gsell said the state needs to get on board to make it work.

“The state, itself, needs to be engaged and involved and make the changes to state statute,” he said. “So, we’ll put that on their radar screen.”

He said officials from both counties have talked to people in the governor’s office in Albany about moving the shared services agreement forward.

“We’ve told them that we’re thinking about this (and said) are you people going to be more than just standing on the sidelines or will you be progressive with us, when and if it gets put into a state budget?” he said.

Gsell said that the jail project was in the governor’s budget at one point but was left out when the 2020-21 final state budget was adopted.

“But that doesn’t mean it is a dead issue … it’s something that our two counties think is at least something to do more than just kick the tires on,” he said.

He added that this type of a “significant first-of-its-kind in the State of New York venture might also attract some funding to actually make it happen.”

The shared services plan also includes school resource officers.

At the present time, the county supports a police presence at Alexander, Byron-Bergen, Pavilion, Pembroke, Oakfield-Alabama and Genesee Valley Educational Partnership (Board of Cooperative Educational Services -- BOCES). Le Roy and Batavia school districts have SRO (School Resource Officer) agreements outside of the scope of the county.

“With SROs, some of the schools may not have a physical presence the way it has been in the past, so where does the SRO go in the future?” he asked. “We believe that it is pretty vital in the day-to-day function of a school system, but it may not be afforded. As schools continue to utilize SROs, it could be done as part of the state’s shared services program.”

May 13, 2020 - 2:38pm

Genesee County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein is taking exception to what she says is misinformation about a proposed resolution to rescind revenue distribution payments to towns and villages during the coronavirus crisis.

Reacting today to news that the Genesee Association of Municipalities and the Town of Bergen supervisor are objecting to the measure, Stein said that the resolution to cancel agreements from 2018 and 2019 that authorize the county treasurer to make quarterly revenue payments to the towns and villages is a temporary move that has yet to cause “harm to anybody.”

“The legislature has considered at Ways & Means (committee meeting) that we are going to rescind the authorization for those two agreements so that there is no authority for the treasurer to write those checks,” she said. “That has to happen because there is no further action necessary for the treasurer to just write those checks.”

She said that is the key to the “whole conversation that I think the towns and villages like to just overlook. And the last three words in the resolution to rescind say, until further notice.”

“At no point has the county said there will not be any further revenue distributions. That’s a comment that comes from the towns and villages,” she said. “There are two sides to this story and it’s very unfortunate that our comments and our weekly call and awareness that we’ve been providing (have been misconstrued) because we want our partners to take action like the county has taken action.”

The Batavian has obtained copies of a resolution passed by GAM representatives at a special Zoom meeting on Monday night as well as a letter written on Town of Bergen letterhead from Supervisor Ernest Haywood.

GAM Seeks Alternative Solution

The GAM resolution – passed by a 20-1 vote with the Town of Oakfield voting “no” – reads, in part, that elimination of the funding would cause extreme financial hardships for Towns and Villages, which already have adopted budgets, made expenditures and have borrowing obligations based upon the revenue from Genesee County.

It went on to request the county to continue the revenue sharing, “and if the amount of sales tax is reduced then the amount to be paid to towns and villages … be reduced by the same amount (percentage) as the county sales tax revenues were reduced by.”

GAM President Thomas Dix, a Pembroke Town councilman, contacted today said the members understood the county’s unenviable position … “but they we’re hoping to find an alternative solution that might allow for some more revenue to be shared with the towns and villages – and the City as well, since the City has a unique position.”

Dix offered that the all governmental leaders in the county take their jobs very seriously and are considering the situation “very, very carefully from all angles.”

“They are capable of thinking outside the box and they are capable of disagreeing and compromising on any issue, always in the best interest of the people they serve,” he said. “And I take my job very seriously as president of GAM by making sure that every municipal leader has a clear line of communication with every other municipal leader. Because I believe that it's when communication breaks down that we start to see the worst problems come to the surface.”

Haywood’s letter expands upon GAM’s resolution, stating that “immediate action needed: call or email today as action to eliminate funding is set for Wednesday p.m.”

Indeed, the full legislature has a Zoom videoconference meeting scheduled for 5:30 today and the resolution in question is No. 8 on the agenda.

Bergen Supervisor: Call Your Legislator

Haywood’s letter exhorts people to call or email Legislator Christian Yunker, who represents the towns of Elba, Byron and Bergen, or Stein to “tell them to continue to share, even at a reduced rate, the sales tax revenue with the towns and villages.”

Continuing, the letter states:

“The legislature is set to take action on a proposal that will eliminate the sharing of revenue all together. We understand the county is getting less but the county should keep all they are getting and should continue to share the lesser amounts with towns and villages.

“Tell them to be sure we (County and Towns and villages) are ‘all in this together’ by the county not keeping all sales tax revenue but continuing to share at the reduced rates they receive it. Without the revenue, the town will be in critical financial shape and will ultimately next year have to raise taxes by over 20 percent to accommodate for the loss of revenue.”

A phone call to Haywood for further comment on his letter was not returned by the time this article was posted.

Stein emphasized that the county has continually kept “our partners” abreast of developments coming from Albany.

Stein: Directive Issued on March 28

“On March 28th, I told the chief elected officers of the communities here that the schedule that we had set forward for the revenue distribution – and it’s not the sales tax anymore and we have to be very clear about that – would not be met this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the New York State On PAUSE,” she explained. “The county would not be able to write checks that we could not cash.”

Stein said she repeatedly has communicated that “we are all in this together and together we are going to find a way to be successful regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State On-Pause, or the state government budget gap of $13 billion and growing.”

“And it is important to remember that this is not our fault,” she said. “But what is important for us is to have a plan moving forward. We have four points of measurement. The first one is a possible federal COVID 4 stimulus directly to the towns, villages and counties. For us, that would be a game-changer.”

She said the county is waiting to hear from Gov. Andrew Cuomo regarding changes to the state budget, expecting between a 20 to 50 percent decrease in state aid for mandated services. Cuomo has specified four measuring periods for adjustments – the first being the month of April and the second being May 1 through June 30.

“As we gain knowledge on each one of those events for measuring where the revenue to the county is and the impact, I’ve asked the towns and villages to stick with us and hold tight,” said Stein, noting that the county has instituted hiring freezes and furloughs along with holds on capital projects. “We’ll have greater clarity and understanding as we move through these time periods.”

First-quarter Payments Have Been Made

Currently, all first-quarter payments to towns and villages have been made on time and per the amounts set by the previous agreements, Stein said.

“Right now, to date, there is no harm to anybody. Together, we can work our way out of this, but we also know that this is not a one-year situation,” said Stein, who also is heavily involved in the reopening of the economy as the Genesee County appointee to the Finger Lakes Region control room. “Our NYSAC (New York State Association Counties) group is indicating this will impact our budget through 2024."

Dix and Batavia Town Supervisor Gregory Post both said they recognize the county’s plight and trust that the communication lines remain open.

“My own personal opinion as a citizen, I understand that it’s in the best interest of Genesee County residents, although towns and villages do not like the idea because it’s going to hurt their budgets directly,” Dix said. “Once you understand the backside of it and … how the money is being shared and how the state impacts that decision, it is actually probably the best way to protect the interests of the residents of Genesee County.”

Post called the county resolution “a prudent measure” that eventually will work itself out.

“I don’t feel it will be a permanent thing,” Post said. “But GAM wants some reassurance that this doesn’t end the sales tax agreements. I don’t think it will but nobody knows for sure what is going to happen, especially with state mandates. The legislature has indicated there will be candor and transparency.”

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