Counties: Loss of state aid would hit hard

Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s Executive Budget reduces aid and shifts state costs totaling millions to counti

Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s Executive Budget reduces aid and shifts state costs totaling millions to counties while offering to cap their preschool special education program costs and allowing them to raise revenues through local fees, according to an analysis by a state association.

The New York State Association of Counties argues, however, that the cap and revenue enhancements do not offset the shift in state costs to the counties. The association estimates counties will see their costs increase by $77.2 million over the next two years.

“Many of the counties that have analyzed the budget say the positive impact of the cap does not offset the negative impacts for juvenile placements, loss of highway aid, the growth of Medicaid costs and more,” said association spokesman Mark Lavigne.

New York state Division of Budget spokesman Matt Anderson said the governor’s budget will save counties $125 million this year, on top of the $390 million they are saving by the state’s cap on local Medicaid costs and its takeover of the Family Health Plus program costs.

“You have to look at the budget overall, not just these limited pieces,” Anderson said.

The governor’s budget now goes to the state Legislature for debate. Both houses traditionally offer their own budgets and the final budget, which is supposed to be adopted by April 1, reflects a compromise.

Schenectady County Legislator Philip Fields, D-Schenectady, chairman of the Legislature’s Finance Committee, said he agrees with the state association’s analysis and that the governor’s budget will exacerbate the county’s already fragile financial condition.

Fields said the county must deal with the loss of nearly $1 million in state and federal revenue that occurred in 2007 and is carrying over into 2008. “We have to take action on these constraints outside of the state budget,” he said. “There are some serious negative impacts for the county.”

As proposed by Spitzer, counties would pay 2 percent more and the state 2 percent less toward the cost of family assistance and safety net welfare programs and counties would pay the full cost to place youths into detention programs, said Lavigne.

Schenectady County’s 2008 adopted budget is $235 million; social service programs account for $136 million of this total.

The governor’s budget would increase Schenectady County welfare costs by $343,842, Montgomery’s by $86,214, Saratoga’s by $91,894, Fulton’s by $68,103, Schoharie’s by $26,985 and Albany’s by $711,811, the association said.

The state currently reimburses counties 50 percent of juvenile placement costs. In Schenectady County’s case, state aid offsets half of the more than $2.2 million the county spent in 2007, and is expected to cover the $2.3 million it has budgeted for this year for placements.

The governor’s budget also reduces aid to community colleges and county-run nursing homes and for highway maintenance, the association said.

Schenectady County Community College would lose approximately $150,000 in state aid under the governor’s budget proposal, said SCCC President Gabe Basil. The county would lose $30,000 in highway maintenance aid.

Lavigne was unable to estimate the impact of the governor’s budget on the Glendale Home, as Schenectady County plans to build a new nursing home. However, he said, “all counties with homes are all operating in deficits and those deficits are burdens on local property taxpayers. This budget cuts aid to nursing homes.”

At the same time, Spitzer’s budget caps county preschool special education program costs for three years, helps reduce operating costs for county jails and allows counties to increase document recording fees through their clerk offices.

The governor’s office estimates Schenectady County could generate $900,000 in revenue by increasing document fee charges. The county proposed to spend $7.9 million on preschool special education needs this year, an increase of $550,000 over 2007’s expenditure.

Schenectady County Legislator Vincent DiCerbo, D-Schenectady, chairman of the Legislature’s Economic Development Committee, said the county “cannot absorb those hits by ourselves. This is the continuing saga of the state balancing the budget on the backs of county taxpayers.”

DiCerbo said the time has come for local officials to seriously consider consolidating programs and services across the county. “People have to understand we cannot afford to pay for the various layers of government in the county anymore,” he said.

Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, said cost shifts in the governor’s budget “come at a time when counties have enacted their budgets. The counties will have to cut costs or raises taxes to make them up.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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