Extra Primary Costs Taxpayers $300k

Southworth angered by “unfunded mandate”; cost to come out of general fund

BY MARCI REVETTE
news@theballstonjournal.com

Saratoga County residents voted in an unprecedented additional primary Tuesday night to decide the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in this fall’s election.

This year’s primary vote date was changed by federal District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe from Sept. 11 to June 26 in order to allow sufficient time to send absentee ballots to military voters. The ruling found absentee voters, including military personnel serving overseas, would be unable to participate if the primary were held as originally scheduled.

This changed primary date will cost Saratoga County taxpayers an additional $300,000, according to Town of Ballston Supervisor Patti Southworth. “You have to pay for the election inspectors, facilities, printing, overtime for employees,” she said. “Also there will still be a primary on September 13. Every primary costs every county extra money.”

The Sept. 13 primary will decide candidates for state and local offices, according to the New York State Board of Elections.

The additional fiscal burden of the extra primary date has angered local officials. “That money now has to come out of our shrinking fund balance,” Southworth said. “Ultimately that’s less money that we’ll have for the upcoming year’s budget. We’re going to have making even more difficult choices.”

Southworth has been vocal in her opposition to unfunded mandates by both the state and federal government, which she believes place an undue burden on local government finances. “The reality is services are going to be cut to our seniors and other needy citizens,” she said. “Those in the most need are going to be the ones that are hurt. That’s unfortunate because those are the ones we’re supposed to be looking out for.”

The ruling in federal court was an unexpected development.

“The additional $300,000 is on top of budgeted amount for primaries,” Southworth said. “We did our budget in November and it was approved in December. At that point no one knew there would be extra primaries.

“We worked very hard to come up with a balanced budget,” Southworth concluded. “A lot of difficult decisions were being made. And now we’re being told the money has to come from our fund balance, which will ultimately affect the taxpayers.”

Wendy Long, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, defeated U.S. Representative Bob Turner and Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos in the 20th Congressional District Republican U.S. Senate primary. She will be facing incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in the fall.

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Mayday for Mandate Relief

Southworth: “Every dollar collected in property taxes goes straight to state for unfunded mandates”

BY MARCI REVETTE
news@theballstonjournal.com

Ballston Town Supervisor Patti Southworth opened the Thursday, June 14 town hall meeting on mandate relief by comparing the stress of financing unfunded New York State mandates to the international call of distress.

“This is a true mayday,” she said. “We’re on a path of destruction. We need action and we need it now.”

Southworth addressed a group of about 20 concerned citizens on the problems faced by the Town of Ballston in implementing the mandates. “A lot of people aren’t even aware of what a mandate is,” Southworth said. “This is our effort to educate the public.”

The hour-long meeting included a PowerPoint presentation outlining what unfunded mandates are and how they are affecting the citizens of Ballston.

Photo by Marci Revette

Unfunded mandates are federal or state regulations which require lower governments to implement a program, but provide no, or only partial, funding. Often that means the lower government must pay for the requirement by taxing its citizens.

In the Town of Ballston’s case, the report shows the town has to give $1.20 to the state for every dollar collected in property taxes.

In 2010, the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) identified nine State mandates which consume 90 percent of the county property tax levy statewide. The mandates have been a direct cause of property tax increases over the past five decades.

The largest of the mandates is Medicaid, with the local share of Medicaid payments in New York now at 16 percent of total Medicaid spending.

Other unfunded mandates include public assistance, child welfare, preschool special education, indigent defense, probation, early intervention, youth detention and state pensions.

According to the report, New York State is still adding unfunded mandates. One is an unprecedented additional primary election this year, the result of the State’s failure to schedule a state primary election that meets the requirements of the federal primary election. The anticipated cost is around $300,000, to be funded by taxpayers.

Southworth went on to outline the reasons for mandate reform. Based on current trends, the projected growth in unfunded mandates, coupled with the 2 percent property tax cap, is not sustainable, according to Southworth. The trend also shows the likelihood of local community spending and services being choked off by the growth of unfunded mandates, she said.

Photo by Marci Revette

County governments have a limited amount of financial resources to provide mandated and non-mandated local services, Southworth said. And with the property tax cap in place and the costs of unfunded mandates increasing every year, counties are being forced to decrease funding for non-mandated local services. The services that could be most affected are road maintenance and repair, law enforcement, emergency services and senior citizen services, among others, she said.

Southworth concluded the presentation by outlining possible courses of action the county and the citizens can take to bring relief. The county will be implementing a “Truth in Taxation” program that Southworth hopes will be passed next week. She urged the audience members to contact the State Mandate Relief Council and state legislators to voice their concerns and to ask for mandate relief for their community and schools. Citizens can also visit www.enoughmandates.com and www.stopnymandates.com online to voice their concerns.

Some audience members were encouraged by the effort to educate the public on mandate relief. Brandon Myers was one of them. “I am really, really happy the county is doing what they are doing to get the word out,” he said.

OPINION: Unfunded State Mandates impact all

Patti Southworth, Ballston Town Supervisor, is hosting a town hall meeting on the subject of Mandate Relief on Thursday, June 14th at 7 p.m. at the Ballston Town Hall Building. She has worked with members of the Saratoga County Administrator’s office to develop an informative presentation about how unfunded state mandates are impacting all residents of our county. Paul Sausville, Malta Town supervisor, recently stated that the county’s property tax rate — which is among the state’s lowest at $2.23 per $1,000 of assessed value — “is essentially a state tax to cover mandates,” noting that the county generates about $50 million annually through property taxes but has a yearly mandate bill of $61.5 million and has to pay the balance from its sales tax receipts. The cost of unfunded state mandates is increasing each year and this situation is unsustainable. All residents are encouraged to attend this June 14th town hall meeting to learn more!

Lisa Donovan
Ballston

Walking Man

Tom Cavanagh treks from Canada to easternmost Long Island, raising awareness about unfunded government mandates.

 BY JENNIE...

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County forum visits Ballston

BY GREG HITCHCOCK
gregh@theballstonjournal.com

Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas Wood III seeks community input on county's fiscal woes. Photo by Greg Hitchcock.

Saratoga County appears to be making good on its promise to make government more transparent as it held its first community forum meeting during a town board meeting in Ballston on Tuesday March 6.

County Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas Wood III was on hand to answer questions from board members and residents present at the meeting. Vice-Chairman Alan Grattige was also present.

Wood said the county heard many concerns and opinions from the public regarding the county’s fiscal troubles at a public hearing on the 2012 budget held last year.

The county is running a tight budget this year and will likely do so again in 2013, mostly due to unfunded state mandates such as Medicaid, Wood said.

He said county executives are proactively working to solve these fiscal concerns. One action is to seek community input and suggestions.

“We are closely reviewing our expenditures and revenue sources,” Wood said.

One ongoing issue has been the county’s nursing home, Maplewood Manor. The facility has experienced a $10 million loss in revenue, Wood said.

“The magnitude of a loss like this is not sustainable,” he said.

A subcommittee has been formed to review Maplewood Manor and study whether selling or restructuring the nursing home would be the better solution.

Another source of contention has been the county landfill, which the county has so far had no use for over the past 12 years. The public works committee is reviewing options regarding the landfill.

Another step the county has taken is to institute a hiring freeze, recommending to departments to not request additional staff unless absolutely critical.

“We are doing more with less,” Wood said.

Saratoga County currently has 1,412 employees, which is a decrease of 44 employees from last year.

Beyond the reach of all cost-cutting measures, however, is the $61 million cost of funding state mandates.

Wood said it took all the county’s property taxes plus a dip into the county’s sales tax pool to pay for these mandates.

While the state is working to solve the unfunded mandates problem counties face, Wood said it is simply not enough.

“The state is promoting caps, not eliminating mandates,” Wood said, which is what local government really needs, he said.

Grattige said there are a lot of challenges counties like Saratoga have little control over.

Ballston Councilman Bill Goslin, a strong advocate of limited government spending, said any way to cut expenditures is important. He said mandate relief can be gotten around regardless of political pressures.

“A lot of people are hurting,” he said. “Anything we can do as a town, I support.”

Ballston resident Bruce Hogan agreed that public officials must find ways to reduce spending while reducing taxes on residents.

“We are pushing off the problem. We push back, but we need help,” Hogan said.

He said public officials and the community need to solve these problems by discovering their root cause.

Ballston Supervisor Patti Southworth said the root cause was the generosity of New Yorkers for social programs beyond the level which many of the taxpayers could possibly afford.

Southworth said taxpayers are very concerned about how the government is spending their money.

Making government transparent to the public is what they deserve, Southworth said.

“The issue is that it is the public’s money,” she said.

To make comments and suggestions on improving Saratoga County, the public is encouraged to visit Communicatingwiththechairman.com.

A tightened belt shouldn't be a noose

At the Dec. 1 Saratoga County Board of Supervisors budget hearing no one was very happy. Some were angry at the proposed fund...

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School board asked to fight unfunded mandates

By RICHARD HALLETT
richard@theballstonJournal.com

Before the Ballston Spa Central School board got down to the business end of its Wednesday, September 7 meeting, 15-year resident Lisa Donovan stepped to the podium and asked the board to “fight back against unfunded mandates” she said put an unfair tax burden on district residents.

“When a federal or state government imposes a regulation without the necessary funding, it becomes the responsibility of the state or local government to pay for the implementation of the law,” said Donovan. “So who pays for these mandates? We all pay through our local school and property taxes.”

Donovan, who spoke during the “public comment” portion of the meeting, cited statistics showing median property taxes paid by New Yorkers were 96 percent above the national median.

“When property taxes were measured as a percentage of home value, nine out of the 10 highest taxed counties in the nation were in New York,” said Donovan.

Donovan said to help ease the problems of unfunded mandates and high property taxes, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has created a Mandate Relief Redesign Team that advocates for a constitutional amendment prohibiting new unfunded or underfunded mandates.

“To support the push for constitutional action, many school districts are passing resolutions demanding relief from these mandates,” said Donovan. She said 27 states—including Massachusetts, New Jersey, California and Illinois—have done so already.

“I encourage [the board] to consider this information and pass a similar resolution, and then communicate the passage of the resolution so taxpayers in this district know that their school board is fighting to save them from additional taxes,” said Donovan.

District School Board President Keith Stewart said the board would discuss this matter under “old business” at its next scheduled meeting.

In other business, the board accepted a $25,000 grant from State Farm Insurance to help support learning service projects for district students during the 2011-12 school year.

Among the programs slated for support are teen-driver safety, in-school banking and financial literacy awareness. The board also accepted a $10,000 grant from Time Warner, Inc. The next school board meeting will be held Wednesday, September 21, at 7 p.m. at the high school library.