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Many Challenges Ahead

By Matt Youngfrau
SARATOGA SPRINGS — September 19, 2003 – Last week, several Sullivan County officials headed upstate to the 2003 New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) Fall Seminar.
Among the county officials who could be found in Saratoga Springs were Sullivan County Legislature Chair Leni Binder, Legislature Majority Leader Rodney Gaebel, County Manager Dan Briggs, County Attorney Ira Cohen, Deputy County Attorney Cheryl McCausland, and Financial Management Administration Commissioner Richard LaCondre.
The seminar, held at the Prime Hotel and Conference Center in Saratoga Springs from Saturday, September 13 to Tuesday, September 16, touched on many issues that are currently affecting counties throughout the state.
“They focused on budgetary crisis issues,” reported Binder. “Most counties are raising their sales and property taxes, and that is after they did that already last year.”
Those counties are facing the same issues Sullivan is. The issues include the rising costs of Medicaid, pensions and health benefits.
Unlike other counties, though, Sullivan’s bond rating has not been affected. According to Moody’s, most counties have either been downgraded or put on “watch” status. Sullivan County has been rated “favorable” and “secure.”
Binder reported that the state has cut TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funds. Since it is a mandatory program, the county would have to pick up those costs. Also, New York and North Carolina are the only states in the country where Medicaid is paid for by the counties and not the state.
“It is bankrupting some counties,” Binder commented. “There is no end in sight to the spiraling Medicaid and benefits costs unless New York State works together and puts politics aside. The state will have deep trouble climbing out of this hole.”
“It did impress upon us that the next few years will be worse than what we see now with Medicaid costs,” Briggs remarked. “There is no light at the end of the tunnel. NYSAC’s position is that the time has passed for New York to offer the Cadillac of Medicaid programs nationwide, and we cannot be buried under taxes. It has to be modified. The state needs to pick up the costs. The result is the loss of many needed services that are discretionary, like law enforcement, roads, and bridges to be abandoned.”
While the budgetary concerns were high on the agenda, other matters were discussed at the convention. Some of those matters were touched on by Gaebel.
“The main topics were budgets affected by Medicaid chargebacks and county pension fund costs being passed down,” Gaebel reflected. “These are tough issues, but there was a whole litany of things. We sent resolutions to the Senate and the Assembly, and we will see where it goes.
“It was a good conference,” Gaebel continued. “We asked for Medicaid relief and a cap, CHIPS funding restored, and to help agriculture programs. There are a lot of issues. We will continue to do what we have to do.”
All of these things will affect next year’s budget. Briggs will file the tentative budget on October 1. He is expected to give a budget presentation at the Legislature’s Financial Management Services Committee meeting on Thursday, October 2 at 10 a.m. in the Legislature’s Committee Room.

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