Nearly a week before Gov. David Paterson is scheduled to release the 2009 budget, executives from several counties across the state met to discuss the hardships their constituencies could face should the governor impose additional funding cuts.
Counties represented at the meeting, which took place Friday, Dec. 5, at the New York State County Executives Association office in Albany, included Yates, Suffolk, Broome, Chautauqua, Chemung, Erie, Monroe, Oneida, Onondaga, Orange, Rensselaer, Rockland and Westchester.
Albany County Executive Mike Breslin, who was scheduled to speak at the event, was absent due to an illness, but in a later interview, he expressed the need for all of the counties to come together to urge the state not to impose more cuts.
I would say that we are all in a situation where our economy is pressing on our ability to deliver services to people who desperately need it, said Breslin.
Kerri Battle, director of communications for the Albany County executive, said those services are the ones most at risk.
`Essentially, often what happens when the state is in a fiscal crisis, is that often they cut [funding for services], but they still expect the counties to do those services,` said Battle. `So the counties got together to tell the state, ‘If you’re going to make cuts, don’t make them so that the counties suffer.’`
Battle said two major services that could be most affected are mental health services and living expenses for foster families.
According to Breslin, the county has already seen a 3 percent decrease in state funding for various services throughout the county, and he said he is worried that the state is planning to cut more in response to the state’s current fiscal crisis.
`We have managed with very small tax increases this year. In the face of increasing Medicare costs, state aid costs and inflationary rises in things like salt and asphalt, we’ve at times struggled to roughly hold our own. But we know that all signs are saying that it’s going to get worse, and we want to know that the state understands that,` said Breslin.
He said it is important that the state does not decide to further shift what would be state costs to the county, having real property taxpayers footing the bill for county services.
Breslin’s sentiments were echoed by other county executives, including Onondaga County Executive Joanne Mahoney who said, `This is a very real fiscal crisis in New York state. Everywhere we go, taxpayers are asking for relief.`
Breslin said that this year, taxpayers have already begun to see the trickle-down effect of cuts in state funding.
`This year, they cut the funding to us by 3 percent. That means that the average funding from the state is down 3 percent. The cost of Medicaid continues to go up 3 percent every year,` said Breslin.
`That is the message: ‘State, don’t cut anymore, because the situation already is dire for state property taxpayers. Don’t choose that as an alternative, state, as a response to the current economic problem.’`
Breslin also said that, while unpleasant, it is not uncommon for the state to pass on the burden to the counties when it is experiencing financial distress.
In light of this year’s cuts, however, Breslin said the county will continue to work on measures to assist the taxpayers.
`We’ve been working for a number of years on several areas to assist those who live on the margins and who really cannot help themselves and who need assistance — particularly those who need long-term care. We have a long-term care council looking at how we can orchestrate our environment,` he said.
The county has also been involved with a project to move the Albany County Nursing home to a new location as part of an approach to improve the living conditions for those who use the services.“