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Ways & Means Committee's message to Gov. Hochul, New York State lawmakers: 'Keep local taxes local'

By Mike Pettinella

It has got to stop!

That’s the message Genesee County legislators likely will be sending to Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Assembly and Senate next week through a resolution that calls for Albany to end the practice of taking local sales tax revenue from communities and putting it into the state’s treasury.

The legislature’s Ways & Means Committee on Wednesday passed the measure – sending it to the full board for consideration at next Wednesday's meeting.

Genesee County is taking action in conjunction with a directive from the New York State Association of Counties for municipalities to make their voices heard.

“This has been proposed before, but I guess NYSAC is trying to hone in on the fact that they weren’t hearing enough from localities – that we weren’t making enough noise,” Ways & Means Chair Marianne Clattenburg said.

According to the resolution, since 2019, New York State has diverted more than $677 million in local sales taxes away from cities, towns and villages and into the state’s general fund.

It reads, in part, that “local sales tax revenue should stay in the community where it is collected.  It is time to return to responsible budgeting to keep local tax revenue in the communities where it can fund local programs such as parks, community colleges, meals for seniors, day care services, 9-1-1 programs, mental health and addiction services and other quality life programs.”

The resolution calls for this practice “to expire permanently at the end of this fiscal year as originally intended.”

In other action, the committee approved:

  • Appointments of C. Joseph Mahler and Thomas Clark, both of Batavia, and Peter Stanbridge of Bethany, to three-year terms on the Genesee County Parks, Recreation and Forestry Advisory Committee.
  • A contract not to exceed $213,268 with U&S Services of Tonawanda for a countywide heating, ventilation and air conditioning control system upgrade. The amount is slightly less than the $225,000 that has been budgeted for this project.
  • Two resolutions pertaining to the replacement of the South Street culvert over a drainage ditch in the Village of Le Roy. The first to establish the capital project, which will be covered by state aid of $757,410 and the second is to contract with Lu Engineers of Rochester for consulting and design services at a cost not to exceed $174,000, which is part of the state’s contribution.

GC leaders urge passage of bills on home rule, and aid and incentives for municipalities before Albany adjourns

By Press Release

Press release:

Genesee County leaders are urging the New York State Legislature to pass various legislative items as part of a statewide effort on behalf of the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC).

“These are pretty straight forward and common-sense items that the state legislature should pass before it adjourns,” said Genesee County Chair Shelley Stein. “We urge our state legislative representatives Assemblyman Steve Hawley and Senator Ed Rath to encourage their colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass these measures.

"At the end of the day, these items would help local governments like Genesee County be even more efficient in the stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”

The items identified by NYSAC include:

  • A bill that has passed the New York State Senate that would create a task force to study the aid and incentives for municipalities (AIM) formula;
  • Legislation that would cap the rate of interest to be paid on judgments and accrued claims tied to the rate of interest to the maturity treasury yield as published by the federal reserve. Ultimately, this legislation helps counties pay lower/capped interest rates on judgements;
  • New legislation that would provide all counties in New York State with the same flexibility regarding investment options that the five counties that comprise the New York City metropolitan region. For instance, counties would be authorized to invest in additional types of products, such as general obligation bonds and notes of any state other than New York;
  • A long sought-after bill that would raise the age of juvenile delinquent offenses from age 7 to age 12; the bill would create “differential response programs” for children under the age of 12 whose behavior but for their age would bring them within the jurisdiction of the family court in an effort to prevent future interaction with the juvenile justice system; and,
  • A repeal of a provision excluding kindergartens, prekindergartens, or nursery schools for children 3 years of age or older, or after-school programs for children operated by a public school district or by a private school or academy, which is providing elementary or secondary education or both from the definition of child day care.

“While these are all important items that we support passage of, the creation of a task force to redesign the aid and incentives for municipalities would be very helpful as the redirection of County sales tax proceeds to cover these payments to municipalities has negatively impacted the County Budget,” said Genesee County Manager Matt Landers. 

In addition to the legislative items identified by NYSAC, Genesee County is urging State lawmakers to pass a critical piece of home rule legislation that allows for the proper accounting of voluntary revenue distribution payments to Genesee County towns with villages located in their boundary.

“This necessary legislation will ensure taxpayers in our Towns aren’t negatively impacted from what amounts to an accounting treatment that needs to be updated,” Landers continued.

“Local leaders have been working closely with Senator Ed Rath and Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, who have been 100-percent supportive of the legislation, but are still waiting to see if Albany will allow Genesee County to manage its own resources as we deem necessary.”

International Women's Day: Their 'extraordinary contributions' during pandemic recognized

By Press Release

Press release:

On this International Women’s Day, the New York State Association of Counties announced the adoption of a resolution recognizing the extraordinary contributions made by women throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The resolution highlights the leading role that women play as leaders of public health, essential services and as mothers, teachers and caregivers.

Read the resolution here.

“The story of the COVID-19 pandemic is largely a story of women," said Marte Saurbrey, Tioga County Chair and NYSAC President-Elect. "Sixty percent of county health officials in New York State and 90 percent of nurses and nursing assistants around the country are women. These public health heroes are the tip of the spear in the fight against this deadly virus and their skill and leadership has been critical to our efforts to end the pandemic.

"Additionally, we can’t forget the millions of women who served their communities as caregivers and essential workers during the pandemic. Their personal and professional sacrifice to their families and communities has made the difference in holding our society together during the last year and we owe them an immense debt of gratitude."

Martha Robertson, Tompkins County Legislature, said: “Women have been holding us all together during the pandemic. They are essential workers of all kinds: postal service, grocery, and childcare workers, first responders, teachers, as well as medical workers and of course mothers! With the vast majority of childcare and other-dependent care falling on women, the economic effects of the recession are compounding the health effects of the pandemic on women; their strength and perseverance in the face of these challenges need to be recognized."

NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario said: “This pandemic has challenged every aspect of our society in ways that most of us never thought possible and every step of the way, women have been rising to meet those new challenges and lead the way through this pandemic. Whether it’s county public health officials and essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic, or mothers and daughters at home teaching their kids or caring for parents, women have been the glue holding our communities together this year more than ever before.”

The resolution was put forward by the NYSAC Women’s Leadership Coalition, a bipartisan organization that offers resources specifically for women in county government and women interested in pursuing county leadership.

The resolution was part of the 30 policy resolutions in 12 issue areas, which will help guide NYSAC’s advocacy for the duration of the legislative session. View the resolutions here:

NYS counties score proposed budget: 'It's a good first step' but big funding gaps still loom

By Press Release

Press release:

The New York State Association of Counties today (Feb. 22) released their 2021-2022 Executive State Budget scorecard.

It highlights key issues that impact counties and notes items that counties actively support or seek to change in the final enacted budget.

“While we still have a long way to go before we get to a final budget, the proposal by the Governor this week is a good first step on several key priorities for counties,” said NYSAC President and Ontario County Board Chair Jack Marren.

“Over the coming months we’ll continue to work with state leaders to ensure local governments have the resources and flexibility they need to finish the fight against COVID-19 and provide essential services to our residents while protecting local taxpayers.”

NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario said “The budget proposed by Governor Cuomo this week incorporates numerous proposals put forth by county leaders over the last several months as we sought to work constructively with the state.

“We’re particularly encouraged by provisions which reimburse state funds, grant local sales tax permanency, allow for shared jails and jail staffing flexibility, provide revenue from recreation cannabis, and a host of other changes that help counties increase program efficiencies.

"We do, however, have concerns around issues like the diversion of local sales taxes and cuts to VLT aid, about which we will continue to engage with state leaders.”

NYSAC is committed to communicating the needs and recommendations of county officials as State lawmakers negotiate the next year’s spending plan.

Learn more about the 2021-22 State Budget and the impact on counties at

Gov. Cuomo called out for not releasing public safety communications money as mandated by state law

By Mike Pettinella

Update: 5:15 p.m. Tuesday:

Assemblyman Steve Hawley weighed in on this situation, calling it "shameful" that the state is holding these funds that are "earmarked and due to our counties to be used for public safety locally."

Hawley said he sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo on Oct. 20 asking him to release all funds for the PSAP Operations and SICG initiatives that were authorized through the 2019-20 fiscal year budget and "ensure that future authorizations are released in full in the budget year they are appropriated."

"It’s similar to the governor withholding funds for snowmobile trail maintenance and grooming," Hawley said today. "These funds have nothing to do with the state, and they are not tax money."


Did you know that New York State collects $1.20 every month as a public safety communications surcharge on your cell phone bill?

Maybe not, but Byron resident Steven Sharpe of Byron is aware of it and he believes that it’s time for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to release the millions of dollars in grant funding set aside for dispatchers and first responders to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities.

“I am surprised that during a pandemic Governor Cuomo is not releasing PSAP Operations (9-1-1 Center) or Statewide Interoperability Communications Grant funds, but instead we are spending $11 million on car charging stations,” said Sharpe, referring to a Nov. 12 article on The Batavian about the state’s plan to underwrite a network of fast charging stations to support wider adoption of electric vehicles.

Sharpe said the PSAP Operations grant is $10 million spread across all county 9-1-1 systems statewide, and the SICG is $45 million statewide to fund public safety radio system maintenance and upgrades for first responders, such as police, fire, emergency management services, hospital ambulance staff and county health departments for use at COVID-19 testing stations.

“New York State is claiming they can't release the grant funds because of budgetary crunches, but the revenues for these grants come from the $1.20 they collect from every cellular device on your monthly bills,” Sharpe said. “Those revenues are still being collected by the state; they are just not distributing the money according to the law.

The law that Sharpe referred to is the New York Consolidated Laws, Tax Law, Section 186-f regarding the public safety communications surcharge.

Per the law, the surcharge of $1.20 – actually a user tax – is imposed on each wireless communications device in service during any part of the month. This surcharge is reflected on the monthly bill.

Paragraph (c) of the law stipulates that up to $75 million of the money collected from this surcharge is to be used for support public safety communications systems and first responders.

The $10 million PSAP Operations grant and $45 million SICG are funded from this stream of money, according to Sharpe, who added that officials of the New York State Association of Counties, New York State 9-1-1 coordinators, and New York State Emergency Management Association have sent letters “pleading with the governor to release these funds.”

“This is a bipartisan issue – not a Republican, Independent or Democrat issue -- but it seems to be going nowhere,” Sharpe said.

Sharpe said the state is taking in more than $200 million annually from the surcharge, with only about 30 cents of the $1.20 being used to fund the grants. He said that this pool of money is separate from funds earmarked for the state’s general budget and that Albany has no legal right to divert it.

He said that the NYS 911 Coordinators Association (of which he is a member) applauds the Federal Communication Commission’s inquiry into New York’s fee diversion practices.

In its letter to the FCC, association officers wrote that the state “diverts critical revenues away from organizations that perform lifesaving work into the General Fund with no accountability as to how the revenues are spent or allocated. Past requests using Freedom of Information Law have yielded little information as to how the State uses funds taken from consumers.”

Sharpe said that the money is needed now, more than ever, with COVID-19 continuing to make its presence felt in society.

“As much as people want to say that COVID hurt us, COVID did not hurt this revenue stream,” Sharpe said. “COVID may have increased this revenue stream because more and more people are using online services and cell phones now to get to work and for work. Local surcharge revenues have not dropped off at all during the pandemic.”

He said the law requires this money to be used for a specific purpose and that the state is not following its own statute.

“What are they doing with it? Perhaps they're making interest on it or they’re paying their other bills, but that’s not what the law says they’re supposed to do with the money,” he said. "Honestly, no one knows what they're doing with it." 

The law was enacted to not only fund public safety communications but also to help counties with their budgeting process, Sharpe said.

“It’s based on the number of users on the system. So, this actually helps local taxpayers and local municipalities stay under the tax cap,” he said. “If Cuomo doesn’t release these funds, where does the shortfall come from? It has to come from the county’s general fund, or worse, the county can say we can’t do things.”

Previous story: Cuomo announces funds to build fast charging stations, first-round applications due by Feb. 18

Municipalities are 'stuck in a moment' as New York State delays, federal leaders debate

By Mike Pettinella

Local governments throughout New York State remain in a holding pattern as they wait for word from Albany on state aid levels and from Washington, D.C., on another federal stimulus bill.

“No update has been received by the Genesee County Manager’s Office regarding state reimbursements of mandated expenses,” County Manager Matt Landers said last night.

Municipalities were expecting to receive an update regarding state funding from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sept. 30, one of the governor’s predetermined “benchmarks” to evaluate and inform localities of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic upon New York’s economy.

Until he hears something different, Landers said Genesee County is “still planning for 20-percent reductions in state reimbursements for both county fiscal years 2020 and 2021.”

The county, towns and fire districts have fiscal years that run from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.

Villages’ fiscal years run from June 1 through May 31, except Alexander, which runs from April 1 through March 31. The City of Batavia’s fiscal year is also April 1 through March 31.

Landers and officials in other counties have been supported by repeated calls from the New York State Association of Counties for the White House and Congressional leaders to reach an agreement on a coronavirus stimulus package that would provide direct aid to local governments.

NYSAC’s latest plea to pass an updated HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act came on Thursday following its virtual Fall Seminar.

In its press release, NYSAC stated that an analysis of the modified $2.2 trillion HEROES Act -- which was moved by leaders in the House of Representatives this week and is still in the midst of negotiations – reveals that counties across the state would receive nearly $3 billion in federal stimulus.

“Every day that passes without a deal on direct aid to local governments, the deeper the economic hole that is being dug in our communities,” said NYSAC President John F. Marren. “Local governments stepped up and expended great resources to stop the spread of the virus and now, with state aid being withheld and revenue collection down, counties are being forced to cut services and lay off employees, which only depresses the economy further. It’s time for Washington to get behind a plan and get this done for the American people.”

The NYSAC report also indicated that through the Community Development Block Grant program, entitlement communities across New York State -- municipalities over 50,000 in population – would receive about $2.4 billion.

Other, smaller cities and localities, would receive $2.2 billion, and New York City, which has half of the state’s 19 million people, would receive $5.35 billion.

The House’s latest version of the HEROES Act is $1.2 trillion less than what Democrats proposed in May, and includes direct payments to individuals and families, and enhanced unemployment benefits.

The issue of sending funds to states and municipalities is one of the sticking points, but reportedly has the support of the Trump administration in the amount of $250 billion.

NYSAC report on overcoming budget crisis includes Genesee County management suggestions

By Mike Pettinella

Genesee County officials have had direct input into a report issued by the New York State Association of Counties that consists of more than 80 recommendations to help the state and municipalities bounce back from the severe financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

County Manager Matt Landers on Tuesday said that he and former manager Jay Gsell submitted a few suggestions to NYSAC, which then created the report, "Reforming and Re-imagining Government Service Delivery Part I: Overcoming the Current State-Local Budget Crisis," and forwarded it on to the NYS Division of Budget.

“I participated with adding a few things to that,” said Landers, also noting that Gsell sent in some suggestions as well prior to retiring last month.

Landers said that he offered the idea of excluding payment in lieu of taxes agreements from the tax cap formula.

“It’s a numbers-driven one, shocking that came from me being a CPA, and Jay put in a couple other ones that I agreed with, such as a state takeover of Medicaid,” he said.

From the report, under the Property Tax Cap heading, Landers’ submission reads as follows:

Exclude PILOT agreements from the tax cap formula. To encourage economic growth in their communities, counties often include a PILOT agreement as a means for a new revenue stream – typically on a parcel of land which has not been generating tax revenue for the county. However, the benefits of a PILOT agreement quickly disappeared after the property tax cap was established because governments are required to reduce their property tax levy by the value of the new PILOT agreements. Excluding PILOTs from the tax cap formula would aid counties in raising revenue, while also incentivizing economic growth and prosperity.

Landers said the idea to have New York State take over the Medicaid program came from Gsell, who consistently pointed out the heavy burden of the state-mandated program upon counties.

From the report, under the Medicaid heading:

The State must complete the takeover of the administration of the Medicaid program from local districts as required under the law. Counties have downsized their Medicaid administrative operations as part of the process so far, but the state continues to layer more responsibility for administering the most complex parts of the Medicaid program on counties. The state’s objective was to reduce costs through improved efficiency by consolidating the administration at the state level, while also ensuring greater uniformity in the administration of Medicaid, which can only be fully accomplished if the takeover is completed.

Gsell also submitted action regarding county jails, which aligns with Genesee’s proposal to join forces with Orleans County on a new jail:

Allow and incentivize shared county jails. Change NYS statute, Commission on Corrections restraints and use shared services dollars to enhance net savings of counties sharing a jail.

The report contains recommendations across various sectors, including county sales tax actions, property tax cap, cannabis legalization, borrowing authority, thruway tolls, community colleges, environment, gaming, Medicaid, public health, personnel/labor, public safety, social services and transportation/infrastructure.

In a press release, NYSAC leaders said the report includes “recommended actions submitted by county leaders across the state as a means to preserve county services in the face of massive declines in local revenues and the withholding of state aid.”

“The recommendations include programmatic reforms to lower costs at both the state and local level, the creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission to Redesign State-Local Service Delivery (which was supported by Genesee County), short-term revenue options, temporary bonding authority, and property tax cap flexibility,” they said.

The state Division of Budget administrators are exploring mid-year cuts to localities, NYSAC said, and are starting to develop budget recommendations for the 2022 State Fiscal Year.

NYSAC indicated that the report could be a useful tool for state legislators when they return to Albany to consider “additional relief legislation to aid counties and other entities in COVID-19 response efforts.”

NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario emphasized that county governments across the state have worked diligently to cut costs over the past six months.

“When this pandemic first swept across the state, local governments stepped up with innovative solutions to manage a crisis that none of us were prepared for,” he said. “Now counties are providing the essential services that New Yorkers depend on during this recession, and we need the state to consider these recommendations to help us address the lack of revenue and their budget cuts.”

County Manager Gsell: HEALS Act no panacea for what's ailing state and local governments

By Mike Pettinella

U.S. Senate Republicans are calling it the HEALS Act but, in Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell’s opinion, the latest federal stimulus proposal does nothing to cure the wounds being inflicted upon state and local governments.

Hoping that the bill offered on Monday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is “dead on arrival,” Gsell took the GOP to task for failing to include funds to help financially strapped municipalities such as Genesee County.

“They just left the realm of local governments and even additional resources for states on the outside with the idea that apparently they want to keep waiting to see what the economy will do … all across the country, not just in New York State,” he said.

The $1 trillion Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection, and Schools Act, or HEALS Act, is the Senate’s answer to the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, that was passed by House Democrats in May.

Gsell believes the stimulus package (the fifth since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March) will likely be the last economic rescue package prior to the November presidential election.

“This Senate bill and the House of Representative bill are diametrical ends of the spectrum … and hopefully (they’ll meet) somewhere in the middle to get bipartisan support in both chambers to get this thing done by August 7th,” Gsell said. “Once they come back in September, they may put anything else in terms of fed stim off past the election and maybe not even then.”

Gsell said states and local governments are facing significant losses in revenue from several sectors, primarily sales tax, but also from hotel bed tax and gaming distributions. He took exception to a provision in the HEALS Act that calls for the construction of a new FBI building in the nation’s capital.

“It is insulting that there is money in this bill to build a new FBI building in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Where does that come out with what should be a federal stimulus bill?"

Reportedly, money for a new FBI headquarters was put in the bill at the request of the Trump administration.

“The economic dislocation is still significant. For what happened yesterday, to pretend that that’s not the case, to me is both disingenuous but also shows a lack of understanding of what’s going on with regard to the national economy and what’s going on with local governments,” Gsell said.

According to the latest report from the New York Association of Counties, the state’s counties and New York City could lose up to $13.5 billion in revenue in 2020 and 2021, a situation that could result in cuts to services and permanent layoffs.

NYSAC projects a $4.9-billion loss in sales tax in the next two fiscal years in light of unemployment soaring to 13 percent (up from 4 percent in 2019) as well as an 80-percent decrease in hotel occupancy taxes and the uncertainty surrounding the reopening of gaming sites across the state.

Furthermore, NYSAC forecasts that state reimbursement cuts of at least 20 percent will cost counties outside of New York City more than $670 million a year.

While acknowledging that the NYSAC figures are worse-case scenarios, Gsell said Genesee County officials are “looking at it from the standpoint of what have we experienced so far in the quarters of sales tax payments that we have seen since the beginning of this calendar year” and hope for federal support.

“If the McConnell bill somehow survives, and I hope to gosh it doesn’t, that will engender the State of New York to start doing across the board 20-percent cuts, if even that low percentage wise, in state reimbursements to county governments and other local governments,” he said. “That’s when some of the numbers you’re seeing here (in the NYSAC report) could be visited upon a county like Genesee in our budget. That’s why the governor has yet to institute his across the board reimbursements that he was given the power to do when the state budget was adopted.”

NYS releases Medicaid funds; Genesee to realize reduction of $23,525 in weekly costs through March 2021

By Mike Pettinella

In a rare piece of positive financial news during the COVID-19 pandemic, Genesee County is in line for a $23,525 weekly savings in Medicaid costs through next March.

“We are finally getting what we have been waiting for (since the first Federal Stimulus bill),” said County Manager Jay Gsell in response to the state Division of Budget’s announcement of the disbursement of $323 million in enhanced Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage funds to counties.

The funds were part of the Families First Coronavirus stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by the President in March and are earmarked for states and counties to help them in the midst of the novel coronavirus.

Gsell said all counties were notified today via a letter and a note to county treasurers that “80 percent of the money will be coming to us via our adjustment in our weekly shares.”

That reduces the county’s weekly shares of Medicaid from $177,332 to $153,807 – a difference of $23,525 – starting with the first week of July 2020 and running through March 31, 2021.

Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, thanked Sen. Charles Schumer for his continued advocacy to provide enhanced federal funding for New York State’s Medicaid Program.

“Senator Schumer has a long history of fighting for enhanced federal Medicaid assistance at times we needed it most, including after the tragedy of 9/11, during The Great Recession, as part of the Affordable Care Act, and now during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Acquario said in a press release. “These valiant efforts have provided the state and county taxpayers with billions of dollars in relief over this period of time.”

In a related development, NYSAC today put out another press release, renewing its call for federal coronavirus funding for states and counties in light of a new report from Moody’s Analytics that projects an additional 4 million layoffs from states and local governments across the nation.

According to the release:

“The report, detailed in recent news accounts, underscores the need for Congress and the President to act on an additional federal stimulus package that provides direct funding for states and local governments facing unprecedented funding shortfalls as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession.”

House Democrats propose $3 trillion stimulus package that includes funding for states, localities

By Mike Pettinella

Update: May 13, 9:30 a.m.

Congressional Democrats reportedly are proposing the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act -- a $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that includes additional $1,200 checks for individuals (up to $6,000 per family) and $915 billion for states and local governments.

In addition, the extra $600 a week federal unemployment benefit would be extended through Jan. 31, 2021, under the proposal. That extra payment was supposed to run out at the end of July.

The bill would also provide:

  • $200 billion in “hazard pay” for essential workers, such as grocery store employees and health care personnel;

  • $75 billion toward more coronavirus testing;

  • Send $25 billion to the U.S. Postal Service;

  • Add $10 billion to the Payroll Protection Program meant to help businesses and especially underserved businesses and nonprofit organizations;

  • $3.6 billion for local officials to prepare for pandemic-era voting challenges in November;

  • $600 million to police departments for salaries and equipment

  • $600 million for state and federal prisons;

  • Provide $100 billion to hospitals and health care providers to cover costs, with a special focus on health care entities in low-income communities.

The New York State Association of Counties is applauding the proposal.

“The federal stimulus proposal introduced today includes funding allocations that have been championed by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and the entire NY Congressional delegation. This essential funding is necessary for essential public employees to provide essential services to stamp out COVID-19 and begin the process of reopening communities," said NYSAC President John F. Marren in a statement.

"County leaders commend House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey and Speaker Pelosi for beginning the negotiating process by introducing this important legislation. We thank New York’s bipartisan congressional delegation for fighting to help New Yorkers survive and thrive during the pandemic."

NYSAC leader calls upon feds to provide relief to state, counties that have 'suffered tremendously'

By Mike Pettinella

The executive director of the New York State Association of Counties has issued an “urgent plea” to federal lawmakers to allocate funds to states and local governments severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking at a press videoconference this morning, Stephen J. Acquario said New York and its counties are facing hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue and need Congress and the President to pass legislation immediately.


“We are issuing an urgent plea not to give up,” Acquario said, referring to the adoption of another federal stimulus bill. “We know and we’re confident that (this can happen) with the support of the Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (and) the New York delegation.

"And now we’re reporting the President of the United States Donald Trump has signaled support for state and local fiscal relief along with another couple of issues concerning infrastructure and rural broadband to be included.”

Acquario mentioned the Senate’s passage on Tuesday of a fourth wave of legislation to extend the small business payroll protection program as well as funds for health-care-related expenses, including state and local testing capacity, tracing and employer testing.

“All (are) very important, critical pieces of legislation," he said. "What is missing from this latest piece of federal funding is essential funding for lost revenue for the State of New York and the counties of New York. We are unique in the United States – the counties of New York – in what we do and what we provide and how we’re funded. Our reliance on sales tax is essential … (and) we have suffered tremendously.”

Acquario cited reports from Erie County that show a loss of $150 million in economic activity, with sales tax projections dropping, and from Long Island that show $200 million in lost revenue.

He also said that NYSAC seeks funding for rural cellular service improvements in tandem with an infrastructure bill.

Acquario touched on several other topics during his 10-minute presentation:

-- Noting the cooperation among New York and neighboring states, he said that New York’s counties will be “part of and leading the regional Mid-Atlantic northeastern portion … in coordinating with nearly 300 county governments."

“We’re going to be setting up a program – Think Regional and Act Local,” he said. “By bringing the best practices from the epicenter of the United States – New York City, the lower Hudson Valley counties and Long Island and other areas -- and sharing those best practices of what we did during the pandemic, we can further support and supplement Governor Cuomo’s efforts to protect this region of the United States, enabling it a better chance to reopen and re-emerge.”

The new partnership reportedly will be called the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic County Coronavirus Coalition.

-- Reporting that Schumer has secured federal funding at the 100 percent level for Federal Emergency Management Agency-relate expenses.

“This is very important for the State of New York and for the counties that are submitting for FEMA reimbursement for personnel, supplies, equipment – this includes repurposing buildings, temporary medical facilities and temporary shelter facilities – repurpose buildings, shortage, temporary morgues, temporary storage of human remains and disposal costs of medical waste,” he said.

-- Sharing details of the “regional reopening of New York” as announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday.

“The number of cases in the State of New York continue to hover around 63 to 65 percent in the City of New York, 21 percent in the two counties on Long Island – Nassau and Suffolk – about 8 percent in the Lower Hudson Valley counties of Rockland and Westchester. Then if you project out to the 53 other counties, it’s about 7 percent is the rate of infection,” he said. “That is the testing data that we have.”

Acquario said the regional reopening approach hinges upon meeting certain criteria, such as hospital capacities of 25 percent above normal capacity being in place in that hospital's region of the state, and that there has been fewer than 10 new COVID positive hospital admissions within the last 10 days.

“So, elective surgeries can resume in those areas of the state where those protocols are in place,” he said.

-- Recognizing the work of county officials across all departments who are responding to the COVID-19 situation and showed a public service announcement indicating as such.

County manager reacts to NYSAC report forecasting a drastic loss in sales tax revenue

By Mike Pettinella

“There are no good signs in our local economy right now, if you think about.”

Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell, who is paid not only to “think about” the local economy but also to “act upon” it, summed up the current situation today in light of a recent report by the New York State Association of Counties that predicts the county could lose between $1.8 million to $5.6 million in sales tax because of COVID-19.

Gsell echoed a phrase used by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in describing what looms ahead.

“I keep using the same term that I hear the governor say, ‘the new normal,’ and it’s not a good ‘new normal.’ It’s quite the mixed bag,” he said.

Full year projections in the NYSAC report estimate that sales tax revenues in Genesee County would decrease by $1.8 million – or 4.5 percent – in a “mild” scenario and by $5.6 million – or 13.7 percent – in a “severe” scenario.

In both cases, industries related to tourism, recreation and restaurants are the hardest hit.

“We’re in a shutdown through May 15 and for every two-week period, NYSAC says the numbers are going to get moved further into the higher percentage of loss,” Gsell said. “They’ve been showing us numbers in terms of the overall impact on general parts of the whole sales tax portfolio … auto buying, electronics, gas stations, and all those percentages, with the exception of grocery stores, are in the 20 to 50 percent loss as far as sales as compared to the year prior.”

Gsell acknowledged that all levels of government are facing the same adverse effects.

“Albany, obviously, is seeing this type of thing as well because they get 4 percent of the 8 percent (sales tax). The state is seeing a precipitous drop in their revenue streams, not only in terms of sales tax but also state income tax, millionaires’ tax and mortgage tax,” he said.

Most recent financial data, for December through February, was favorable for the county, Gsell said, but statistics starting in March should tell quite a different story, Gsell said.

“We know that starting this month, which is a new quarter, that the kind of numbers that NYSAC is showing us as far as the various sectors of our economy are going to be negatively impacted. Then we will foresee the same kind of implication for our local sales tax proceeds.”

Statewide, the NYSAC report estimates the total loss to county sales tax revenue in the “mild” scenario at about $350 million (excluding New York City) and in the “severe” scenario at $1 billion. Sales tax is the largest source of locally generated revenue in the average county, accounting for 43 percent of local revenue.

Gsell said he and his staff are “focusing on how to maintain some semblance of our county budget and how to deal with the issues with regard to our own workforce and the services that we provide.”

Auto sales, for example, have fallen dramatically, putting a huge dent in the sales tax budget.

“We’re basically doing just some of the mail-ins and some of the limited car sales that are occurring over the internet,” he said. “The dealers used to bring to us 60 and 70 allotments a week have trickled down to almost nothing. Something as revenue-driven as the county auto bureau under the county clerk’s office could be seeing a significant change even in the future of the kind of business that we have over there.”

He said the county is waiting for its share of the federal stimulus money to help with its weekly Medicaid costs.

“The state has gotten two of their federal Medicaid advances already since that stimulus package was voted on, passed and signed and we haven’t seen a dime yet,” he said.

Looking ahead, Gsell said he believes the recession (to whatever degree) is going to be with us through the end of the year – and he also is wary of a second bout of the coronavirus.

“If that starts to come back and they talk about another wave potentially in September, how do you go out and say, ‘Yeah, we’re not going to pay attention to that. We don’t care what the governor says and therefore, let’s have our economy start coming back,’ ” he said. “That to me is the height of folly.”

Estimated March 2020 Sales Compared to March 2019, U.S. Census Bureau
-- Motor vehicles & parts dealers -- Down 23.7 percent
-- Furniture & home furniture stores -- Down 24.6 percent
-- Gasoline stations -- Down 18 percent
-- Clothing & clothing accessories -- Down 50.7 percent
-- Sporting goods, hobby, music, etc. -- Down 22.7  percent
-- Department stores -- Down 23.9 percent
-- Miscellaneous store retailers -- Down 4.9 percent
-- Food service & drinking places -- Down 23.0 percent

Counties urge swift federal action to protect local services

By Billie Owens

From the New York State Association of Counties:

The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) on Thursday sent a letter to the New York Congressional Delegation today calling on congress to swiftly pass a fourth stimulus bill that provides additional funding for counties and the State of New York. 

Specifically, the counties are supporting Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s request seeking an increase in federal Medicaid assistance and unrestricted federal funding to address lost revenue and an increase in need for social services provided through New York’s counties.

“Through our public health department hero’s, first responders, and the social service workers helping families cope with the economic devastation of COVID-19, counties are on the front lines of this crisis,” said NYSAC President John F. Marren.

“Today, we are thanking our congressional delegation for their support and leadership, and we are asking them to support the Governor’s request for additional federal assistance so that counties can continue providing services through this crisis.”

Counties are looking for support for funding and administering a wide array of social services—TANF, HEAP, child support, child welfare services and adult protective services—that are of increasingly vital importance during the COVID-19 pandemic and the acute economic slowdown brought on by social distancing.

“Whether it’s the heroic doctors, nurses and staff of our local health departments, our first responders or the social service providers who are helping families as they cope with the economic devastation of COVID-19, counties are on the front lines of this crisis,” Marren said.

“While counties are grateful for the support we’ve received from the New York Delegation, the depth and length of this crisis is placing incredible strain on our local governments and we need swift, additional assistance from the federal government to continue providing the services our residents depend on.”

Services administered and/or funded by counties in New York (which are unique in the nation) include:

  • Medicaid-administered and funded by counties;
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – Administered by counties;
  • Women, Infants and Children (WIC) – Administered by counties through their public health departments;
  • Safety Net Assistance – Counties administer and fund 71 percent;
  • Child Care – Subsidized by some counties in New York;
  • Child Support Enforcement – Administered by counties;
  • Early Intervention and Pre-School Special Education – Counties in New York contribute roughly 50 percent of the total cost to each program;
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – Counties play a large role in paying for and coordinating services;
  • Preschool Special Education Programs – Counties and NYC spend about $800 million per year on this program;
  • Summer School Special Education Program – Counties contribute roughly 10 percent, roughly $40 million annually.

“The federal support is critical during these extraordinary times, and we urge the federal government to move quickly to pass a fourth piece of recovery legislation that provides direct support to the state and to the local governments in the form of increased Medicaid funding and unrestricted aid,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario.

“We are one New York, and the state’s ask to the federal government ought to be supported by the thousands of local government elected officials. We are partnering with the state in solidarity to get the assistance New York needs.”

Counties across the state struggling with nursing home issues, NYSAC says

By Howard B. Owens

Genesee County isn't the only county in New York struggling with what to do with its nursing home in an era of skyrocketing costs and dwindling resources.

All 36 counties in the state with nursing homes are facing the same issues, according to a press release from the New York State Association of Counties.

“We need to address following questions. Should counties be in the long-term care business? If the answer to that question is yes, then we need to develop funding formulas or financing mechanisms that do not require annual property tax increases to keep them open,” said NYSAC President Tom Santulli.

The NYSAC statement says:

Counties are in a crisis and are confronted with unique challenges with the health and fiscal stability of public nursing homes. Those challenges include complying with the unfunded mandates such as Wicks Law and contributing to growing public employee pension rates and healthcare costs.

To help counties address the issues, NYSAC is hosting a nursing home summit May 25 in Ulster County. The summit will address:

  • Long term care reimbursement and the NYS budget crisis,
  • The current fiscal health of county nursing homes in New York State,
  • Challenges of operating a county-owned nursing facility,
  • Analysis of the state’s population demographics, relative to housing needs, and
  • Alternatives to institutional long-term care including home/community-based alternatives.

The press release concludes:

“County-owned nursing homes are in state of transition. The state’s indecisiveness about the role of counties in long-term care, and their temporary fixes are not solving the problems we are facing. They are Band-Aids but they are not addressing the structural deficiencies,” said Stephen J. Acquario, executive director of NYSAC.

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