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Lewis County legislators request state mandate relief

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators declared May 23 as Mayday for Mandate Relief.

They joined other counties across the state, encouraged by the New York State Association of Counties, to inform their constituents of the financial hardships unfunded state mandates force upon the counties, and to send a message to Albany that immediate relief is needed.

Legislators said they hope the message is heard and acted upon with important changes.

“The state is all talk and no action,” said Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville. “The things they’ve done don’t amount to anything considering our needs.”

Board of Legislators Vice Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, agreed.

“The governor appointed a mandate relief committee and they came back with recommendations,” he said. “No action has been taken whatsoever on those recommendations. Now, a new committee has been appointed. That group has yet to come back with anything.”

Frustration among the legislators was evident as they detailed the $98,000 they send to Albany every week to pay for the state’s Medicaid mandate.

“Our rate is 42 percent,” said Board of Legislators Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, “while the state contributes 3 percent.”

Mr. Bush added, “When the stock market went sour, the state lost a lot of money. We’ve had to increase our contributions, but the state still contributes what they always have. If the state would step up, it would make this a lot more palatable for everyone involved.”

While Medicaid mandates are huge, totaling 40 percent of the county’s property tax levy, they aren’t the only concern.

Public assistance safety net, child welfare protective services and preventive care, special education preschool, early intervention, probation, indigent defense and pensions add up to 90 percent of all county taxes levied in the state in 2010, excluding New York City, where many of the programs are exempted. In Lewis County, those mandated programs are 94 percent of the county budget.

To balance the last county budget, legislators asked county department heads to cut up to 20 percent. County officials said it won’t be possible to make those cuts again.

Without relief, Mr. Tabolt said, “It’s almost inevitable we will have to override the 2 percent tax cap to keep up with the mandates.”

County Manager David H. Pendergast said, “I’ve been in government for over 30 years, in different levels. It’s been a recurring discussion in all those years. It’s about time the state gives the county meaningful, and I stress meaningful, mandate relief.”

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