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New York State Association of Counties

Genesee County manager applauds major victories in areas of investments, shared services for localities

By Mike Pettinella

Genesee County Manager Matt Landers on Friday applauded the New York State Legislature for passing measures that will give county leaders across the state additional flexibility – leading to a lessening of the tax burden upon its residents.

“The legislation that recently passed the Assembly and Senate are definite wins for counties throughout New York and the citizens of Genesee County and New York State,” Landers said. “We are hopeful the governor will sign the legislation.”

When and if they are signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, these pieces of legislation will touch on several areas that directly affect how counties run their operations, Landers said.

He singled out three of the bills that passed both houses of the legislature in the final days of the 2021 session:

  • Expands Investment Options for Counties to provide similar options as those available to New York City under current law and help maximize returns for taxpayers.

“This passed legislation will allow counties to maximize their monies in reserve by earning a higher rate of interest,” Landers said.

  • Creates an AIM Redesign Task Force to analyze and recommend available alternatives to the current AIM formula and allocations, including models from other states.

“The creation of an Aid and Incentives for Municipalities design task force is certainly welcome, because simply shifting the state’s responsibility to fund local governments onto counties is not working and is not sustainable,” Landers said.

  • Extends the Countywide Shared Services Initiative for an additional three years and enhances flexibility within the program to encourage more participation.

“This legislation providing for an additional three years of incentives for shared service initiatives is very welcome news in Genesee County as we are always looking for ways to partner with local governments to deliver services in more efficient ways,” Landers offered.

Other county priorities that were passed by the Assembly and Senate were the creation of an early intervention covered lives assessment fee on commercial insurance to help fund services for infants with special needs, and raising of the age of juvenile delinquent offenses from 7 to 12, keeping very young children out of the criminal justice system.

The latter, according to the New York State Association of Counties, helps to address racial disparities in the justice system, and allows tax dollars to be better spent on programs that are developmentally appropriate for young children.

NYSAC President Jack Marren commended lawmakers for being sensitive to what county governments have gone through.

“Over the last year we’ve seen how vital it is to have strong local governments that can respond to unforeseen emergencies and provide essential services to residents when it matters most,” Marren said. “Counties applaud Speaker Heastie, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and the state lawmakers who fought to provide counties with the resources and flexibility we need to support the programs at the local level.”

NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario called upon Cuomo to put his signature to the paper.

“I’m hopeful that we can build on the progress made during this session and carry that momentum into next year, but first we need Governor Cuomo to sign these bills into law so that counties can get to work building effective and sustainable local governments.”

County manager sounds off against sales tax diversion, misguided cannabis excise tax distribution

By Mike Pettinella

Update: March 30, 1 p.m.

County Manager Matt Landers provided the amount of sales tax that New York State will divert from Genesee County for 2021 to be used for Fiscally Distressed Health Facilities/Other State General Purposes (FDHF-GF) & Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM)-related Payments:

FDHF-GF Sales Tax Diversion

January 15, 2021 -- $251,636

Rest of calendar year 2021 -- $185,632     

Total -- $437,268

AIM-related Payment Sales Tax Diversion

May 2021 -- $69,124

December 2021 -- $234,489

Total -- $303,613           

Grand Total -- $740,881


In the Genesee County manager’s eyes, it seems as though the more New York State gets, the more New York State wants.

Matt Landers today said he supports the New York Association of Counties as it attempts to reverse a recent local sales tax diversion law that, according to NYSAC, is removing more than $59 million a year from communities across the state.

“I’m in full agreement of the push by NYSAC to stop this diversion, especially in light of the fact that the state has been given funding through the federal stimulus to assist with nursing homes,” Landers said. “There really isn’t a need to divert county sales tax to go toward assisting distressed hospitals and nursing homes.”

Earlier this month, Congress passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act and appropriated $23.8 billion to New York, with more than half of that going directly to the state government.

Landers emphasized that sales tax is a major source of revenue for more than half of the NYS counties, and also for towns, cities, villages and school districts that have sales tax sharing agreements with their counties.

In 2019, local governments shared $2 billion in local sales tax revenues, NYSAC reported.

The county manager said some municipalities had their state Aid and Incentives to Municipalities funding reduced or eliminated and then put back in – with sales tax diversion cover their AIM – and some will receive their full AIM.

“The governor’s proposal had it so that the AIM will be covered by sales tax diversion, but the Senate and the Assembly have different versions of that. So, until we see a final bill, I’m not sure what the final impact will be,” he noted. “But the sales tax diversion and the AIM situation are just two more examples of the state taking county sales tax for other purposes."

NYSAC President Jack Marren said local governments, now more than ever, need their full share of sales tax and state Aid and Incentives to Municipalities.

“Strong local governments make for a stronger state, and as New York recovers from the economic devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, it is imperative that those of us who have been serving on the front lines of responding to the crisis be provided with the resources and the flexibility we need for a full recovery,” he said.

In a related development, Landers said he is against the formula being proposed to distribute the 13 percent sales or excise tax attached to the legalization of cannabis.

“The state plans to keep 9 percent of that 13 percent and they’re distributing the 4 percent to municipalities. The problem is that instead of putting it through as sales tax and letting sales tax sharing agreements divvy the money appropriately, they’re providing 3 percent directly to towns, villages and cities, and just 1 percent to counties,” he said.

Landers said that flies in the face of common sense.

“Just think about it? What municipalities are being impacted the most by legalization of marijuana?” he said. “If you look at the services that are delivered, it should go to criminal justice and human services agencies that the county runs – whether it’s the public defender’s office or the DA office, sheriff, the jail, mental health, health department. What does the typical Genesee County town have in services that would be impacted by the legalization of cannabis compared to a county?”

Landers mentioned that he understands some cities are planning to use income from marijuana legalization to pay for programs unrelated to what likely will arise from the increased usage of pot.

“The money should be to fund unintended consequences from the legalization of marijuana. There are going to be public health and other effects – just like the VLT (Video Lottery Terminal) money that was given to municipalities that have gambling in their areas,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that you go and create a new, unrelated program and put the money there. It should be used to offset the societal costs that you’re going to be hit with as a result of that activity.”

He said that some cities have their “wish list” of things that they want to do and now they have a new revenue stream to do that.

“In Genesee County, we would take that money and apply it to whatever effects it had on our budget as a result of the legalization. Unfortunately, though, I think it’s pretty much a done deal and we’ll have to accept the reality.”

Landers: NYS reportedly supporting Genesee County's idea to loosen restrictions on investments

By Mike Pettinella

Genesee County Manager Matt Landers said he finds some good and some bad with the proposed New York State fiscal year 2022 budget with the “good” connected to a suggestion made by Genesee County officials to loosen the restrictions on municipal investments.

“A suggestion that actually came from Genesee County was the ability to invest our money a little more, I don’t want to say aggressively, (but) the restrictions that governments – counties and municipalities – in New York State had was one of the most restrictive in the nation,” said Landers, reporting to the Genesee County Legislature this afternoon during its meeting via Zoom videoconferencing.

Landers said if Gov. Andrew Cuomo ultimately accepts the suggestion to give local governments more flexibility in their investments, it could lead to a six-figure increase on Genesee County’s bottom line.

“I don’t have an exact figure, you’d have to talk to Treasurer Scott German about that, but I do know that we budgeted $150,000 in 2021 and that was just in the general fund,” Landers said, noting that investments are volatile depending upon interest rates.

Last summer, Landers and German looked into the county’s investment strategies – it has a contract with the three+one firm out of Pittsford – and found out that New York’s investment regulations were the most restrictive in the nation.

“I passed that along to NYSAC (New York State Association of Counties) and they passed it along to the (NYS) Division of Budget, and lo and behold, it came out as one of the governor’s suggestions in his budget to loosen up the restrictions,” Landers said. “So, there’s evidence that ideas coming out of Genesee County can actually have an impact on the state.”

Landers said news of the governor’s support in the investment arena puts the county in prime position to generate additional revenues.

“I’m sure Scott will be pleased to put three+one to work if we get this additional relief in how we can do investments,” he said.

Sticking with the “good” part of the state budget, Landers said the county now is projecting a 5-percent reduction in state aid – down from the 20 percent it put in its 2021 budget.

“This is assuming that the state gets $6 billion in stimulus money from the federal government,” he said. “If the state gets nothing, then we would be looking at the 20 percent (decrease).”

Landers also mentioned the state’s reconfiguration of its Aid and Incentives for Municipalities program – action that will affect counties that have towns and villages receiving AIM funds.

“We’re still trying to figure out how the AIM impact will be – the state is shifting – taking some of the sales tax proceeds from counties and making towns and villages whole through AIM,” he said. “More than half the counties are going to benefit from this shift, but some counties are going to be hurt depending on the makeup within their county of municipalities that are receiving AIM.”

The county manager also reported that the allocation of the county’s extra 1 percent in sales tax no longer will need state approval, but on the “bad” side, said the county is looking at the possibility of losing $160,000 in Video Lottery Terminal revenue generated by patrons at Batavia Downs Gaming.

In legislative action, the board implemented a Rule 19 resolution to ratify prior measures that grant Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein emergency powers as they pertain to financially protecting non-county workers – both volunteer and professional -- at COVID-19 testing clinics.

The resolution gives Stein authority in two circumstances beyond a Jan. 14 resolution that granted emergency powers for the chair to execute necessary COVID-19 documents – an agreement for services for COVID-19 volunteers and an agreement for paid services for COVID-19.

On another front, the legislature set a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. on April 28 at the Genesee County Old Courthouse as part of the mandated eight-year review of Agricultural District No. 4.

The district was created in December 1980 and, under Article 25AA of the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law, Section 303-a, it must be reviewed eight years after the date of creation and every eight years thereafter. Property in Agricultural District No. 4 is located in the towns of Byron, Bergen, Elba, Stafford and Le Roy.

In other action, the legislature passed the following resolutions:

  • A construction contract with Union Concrete and Construction Corp, West Seneca, in the amount of $1,767,387 to replace bridges on Meadville Road over Canal Feeder in the Town of Alabama, Sharrick Road over Murder Creek in the Town of Darien, and Tower Hill Road over Spring Creek in the Town of Byron.

The resolution also called for a consultant agreement with CHA Consulting Inc., of Buffalo, for the three projects for an amount not to exceed $340,000.

Union Concrete and Construction Corp. submitted a bid that was around $400,000 less than the engineer’s estimate of construction costs. Ninety-five percent of the capital project will be paid by federal aid, with a 5 percent local match taken from the 1 percent sales tax fund.

  • A consultant agreement with C&S Companies, Rochester, for an amount not to exceed $109,000 in connection with the replacement of the Upton Road over Bowen Creek bridge in the Town of Batavia.

Work, which will be covered by federal aid at the 95 percent level, is expected to start immediately.

  • Payment of $4,535 in costs related to dental surgery for K9 Rayzor, with fund coming from the K-9 Donations Reserve Account (gifts and donations that were made to the K-9 program).

Expenses consisted of $2,317 for the surgery plus costs for his handler’s lodging, vehicle fuel and food to transport Rayzor to the hospital where the surgery was performed, as well as a recovery bed for the dog.

  • A contract extension through Dec. 31 with the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services, Albany, in the amount of $170,672.

This money funds the county’s full-time assistant public defender, part-time assistant public defender, investigator and paralegal’s salary and fringe benefits as well as a parity stipend for an assistant public defender, cell phone service for one, landline telephone service for two, the investigator’s mileage and investigation online service software.

  • Contracts with SkyMark Refuelers LLC, Kansas City, Kan., in the amount of $324,590 for ground service equipment, broken down as follows: $189,600 for a Jet-A refueler (diesel option) and $134,990 for an AvGas refueler (diesel option).

The cost for these contracts is partially covered by a state grant.

  • A change order to a contract with Suburban Electric, Albion, in the amount of $65,302 in connection with work being done at pump stations in Churchville and Mumford to expand water supply capacity under Phase 2 of the Countywide Water Supply Program.

The change order calls for the installation of a different Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) within the Motor Control Center (MCC); eliminating the power management system; modifying the MCC; increasing the height of the telemetry tower from 50 to 70 feet, adding an additional telemetry tower at the Riga Pump Station and adding a backup power system for the MCC.      

This is the second change order on this contract and brings the total contract cost to $832,984.50. The original award of the contract was for $759,000.

  • Allocation of up to $300,000 to support the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce for publicity and tourism services connected to the “I Love New York” program through Dec. 31.

Funds from the county’s 2021 hotel and motel tax receipts (bed tax) will be used, with the stipulation that the county will only fund tourism activity to the extent actual revenues from bed tax are realized, not to exceed the fiscal year appropriation of $300,000.

  • The creation of two temporary full-time clerk-typist positions, effective from Jan. 25 until July 23. The clerk typist salary and fringe ($38,707) are allocated in the 2021 Health Department budget.

The position’s salary is partially funded by state aid/performance funds. The cost to the county will be approximately $22,158.

NYS begins distribution of COVID-19 testing kits but some questions remain unanswered

By Mike Pettinella

New York State’s allocation of 400,000 COVID-19 testing kits provides a much-awaited boost to municipalities, but still doesn’t answer the question of who will be responsible for administering these tests to students and others in need of rapid coronavirus laboratory analysis.

A pair of executive directors of state organizations issued a joint statement to that effect earlier this week, and their thoughts were supported today by Paul Pettit, director of the Genesee & Orleans County Health Departments.

Sarah Ravenhall, executive director of the New York State Association of County Health Officials, and Stephen J. Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, applauded the distribution of the testing kits, calling it “a welcome step toward the goal of implementing a robust and successful school testing program in counties implementing the state’s Cluster Action Initiative.”

But the availability of these materials isn’t enough, they said, posing the unresolved question: “Who will provide the staff and resources necessary to administer the tests?”

Their statement asserted that many county health departments have numerous school districts in their jurisdictions and not enough licensed and trained staff to handle the workload.

“Test kits are just one part of a much larger array of essential resources that must be deployed to make this work,” they said. “Additionally, we have significant concerns about the capacity of our communities to implement this plan. Local health departments have been working in concert with community-based organizations since the pandemic began, and many of these organizations are at, or even beyond, full capacity.”

Pettit said he agrees with “the essence of the press release … as we are encouraged by the long overdue movement to provide rapid testing in our counties. As we have been sharing since the beginning of COVID in our communities, we have lacked adequate and affordable/free testing for our residents.”

The provision of these machines and kits solves part of the problem, Pettit said, “but leaves many unanswered questions around the capacity and ancillary support to provide them.”

“We again find ourselves with new testing requirements pushed upon us (20 percent of the school population testing if in a 'yellow zone’) without a full understanding of the details of the new requirements and a lack of support and capacity to meet them,” he said. “We have reached out to our community partners and health care providers to discuss the best approach to receiving and implementing a county testing program that will provide the free access points that we’ve been seeking.”

Pettit added that his agency is talking with school officials about coronavirus testing requirements.

“Ultimately, our goal is to have this free rapid testing available from many locations for county residents who need testing for any variety of reasons, including school-based symptom screening, state required testing to visit long-term care facilities, and symptomatic individuals.”

Ravenhall and Acquario are calling upon the state to provide financial support to carry out its directive.

“We cannot rely on local partnerships alone to meet our needs,” they stated. “Any plan to implement robust testing in our schools must include adequate state resources -- and withholding funds from localities will only make this monumental task even more difficult.”

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that schools in the state’s precautionary “yellow zones” will receive the rapid testing kits, with the 400,000 kits being the first batch.

Starting today, “yellow zone” schools must test a fifth of the student population, staff members and teachers on weekly basis. Schools in “orange” and “red” zones are required to teach students through remote learning only. Currently, none of the schools in Genesee and Orleans counties are in any of the aforementioned zones, Pettit said.

Cuomo spokesman says $3 billion in CARES Act money will be spent; Jacobs says it's not governor's 'piggybank'

By Mike Pettinella

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo advised Chris Jacobs to “take a course on basic math” after the freshman congressman on Thursday accused the governor of sitting on $3 billion of unspent federal stimulus money that is intended to help New York state counties, cities, towns and villages.

“I know he just got there, but clearly the congressman should take a course on basic math and budgeting because in about 120 days the state spent $2.2 billion on COVID-19 expenses, nearly half our allocation, and simple math would tell you we’ll spend it all by the end of year,” Deputy Communications Director Jason Conwall said.

Conwall said the money is going for personal protective equipment, food banks and coronavirus testing efforts.

“This is just misdirection by a congressman who knows Washington has yet to deliver and will ultimately determine the depth of the state’s spending reductions and how damaging they will be to the schools, hospitals and our most vulnerable neighbors that are supported by the state,” Cornwall added.

Earlier in the day, Jacobs issued a statement indicating that Cuomo is “hoarding” the CARES Act funding that was intended to help local governments, and wants to see stronger language in any additional stimulus legislation to demand greater accountability in the utilization of these funds.

“This is taxpayer’s money intended to help people during this crisis; it is not the governor’s personal ‘piggybank,’” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said he was “shocked” to learn that New York has spent only 42.3 percent of the $5.1 billion in CARES Act funding. An additional $2.1 billion was allocated to seven large municipalities, including Erie and Monroe counties, which received $160 million and $130 million, respectively.

According to Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell, the state’s 50 other counties did not qualify for any of the CARES Act money, other than funds to help offset Medicaid expenses and to reimburse specific agencies for COVID-19 costs.

The CARES Act was set up to compensate states and municipalities that had populations of at least 500,000 or that met Community Development Block Grant requirements.

“We got our FMAP (Federal Medical Assistance Percentages) money – reducing our Medicaid weekly shares by $24,000 well into next year – and about $100,000 for the Office for the Aging and health department,” he said.

Gsell continues to urge the federal government to pass another stimulus bill, this time with funding for local governments. Today is the final day of his 26-year, 364-day career as the county’s chief administrative officer.

He also said there’s no guarantee that the state will release any of the $3 billion that Jacobs says is in its coffers to local governments, so he is imploring the feds to step up with what looks like a final federal stimulus package to support counties, cities, towns and villages. Gov. Cuomo also has warned that the state may reduce its aid to municipalities by 20 percent or more.

“We have been arguing that if there is going to be a Fed Stim 4-5 that part needs to change,” he said. “The HEALS Act that (Sen. Mitch) McConnell put together brings us nothing – it only suggests that the state still has some money and they might be able to give some of it to other jurisdictions in the state.”

Gsell said if Congress passes one last stimulus bill, they need to do it quickly.

“This is the time and this is now. Not after November; not two and a half months from now, before the election. Address it now, before you go home and start doing the hand shaking and baby kissing at the legislative levels,” he said.

In a related development, John F. Marren, president of New York State Association of Counties, reinforced the need for assistance to counties as he commented on the quarterly state budget update for 2021. The financial plan projects a $14.5 billion revenue decline in the general fund and a 15.3 percent decrease in “all funds” tax receipts.

“This quarterly state budget update is bad news for New York, and bad news for every local government, service agency and local taxpayer in the state,” Marren said. “The loss in revenue and budget gaps will decimate every local health, safety and human service program, construction project, and job in their path.”

County groups implore Congress to enact coronavirus relief package to help state, local governments

By Mike Pettinella

Press release:

The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) and the New York State County Executive’s Association (NYS CEA) today announced they are joining with dozens of national and statewide organizations representing states, counties and cities to call on the United States Senate to act immediately to support a federal coronavirus relief package that provides funding to state and local governments.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our economies and without federal funding for states and local governments, that impact will go on for months and years,” said Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, president of the New York State County Executive’s Association and the National Association of Counties. “Between our employees, our contracts, and the purchases we make, counties, states, and local governments have a tremendous impact on the national economy. We need federal funding to keep these parts of our economy moving.”

According to the sign-on letter sent by the group to Senate Leaders, state and local governments employ “nearly 15 million Americans…and also purchase goods and services which add to the nation’s output,” accounting for 11 percent of the nation’s GDP in 2019.

“Counties are facing fiscal pressures worse than what we experienced in the great recession,” said NYSAC President John F. Marren, chair of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors. “The best way to help our economy right now and in the near future is to inject federal funds that will protect the jobs and services that we provide at the county and local government levels.”

The letter, which is being transmitted today to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, says that furloughs and job cuts are on the table for many states and localities, particularly as many local governments face new fiscal years on July 1st.

“Our budgets at that state and local governments have to be balanced and enacted on time. That means that our local leaders right now are closing substantial budget gaps. Now is the time for federal action on direct and flexible funding for states and local governments, before painful cuts to jobs and services have to be made,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario.

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