By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO A county auditor particularly familiar with the Sullivan County Adult Care Center (ACC) told legislators on Thursday that significant funding hurdles remain.
“In the short-term, you’ve got to address the occupancy issue,” auditor Chris McCarthy said. “You can’t continue at this 88 percent.”
County-run nursing homes, he explained, are the costliest ones to operate in New York, more so than private-run ones by for-profit or nonprofit firms.
“And I can tell you, it doesn’t bode well for high-cost facilities, this new Medicaid methodology,” McCarthy added.
The state has recalculated the formula, resulting in more than half a billion dollars’ worth of Medicaid revenue required to be “repaid” to the state by nursing homes.
Though McCarthy did not make specific recommendations, his report clearly pushed for more marketing of and renovations to the 21-year-old ACC, located in Liberty.
Legislator Ron Hiatt added that the county hopes to find new efficiencies in operations, as well.
“And we’re looking at specializing to change the case mix,” he remarked, alluding to rehab services, which offer higher reimbursement rates.
Impressed with his presentation, legislators are looking to retain McCarthy for further insight, and he may appear at senior citizen meetings to talk about it to the public.
Uncollected taxes rise
McCarthy was also part of the group from the firm of O’Connor, Davies, Munn and Dobbins LLP which presented the results of the 2010 audit of the county’s finances.
While the county got an award for its acumen in financial reporting, the news was troubling.
The auditors pointed out that outstanding taxes owed to the county have jumped from around $5 million three years ago to $15 million.
Sales taxes fall
And the sales tax sector isn’t necessarily much better.
County Manager David Fanslau reported that the second-quarter sales tax revenue was 2.4 percent less than 2010’s second quarter.
“This is an indicator that times still are not good,” he observed.
Third-quarter revenue, however, is usually the best of the year.
“Let’s hold our breath,” Hiatt remarked.
Tax cap or no tax cap?
County Attorney Sam Yasgur told legislators that nine of his upstate counterparts are questioning the constitutionality of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently enacted two percent property tax cap.
“You’ve got credit ratings based on your ability to tax,” Yasgur pointed out. “[This cap] has invaded that to some degree.
“... In effect, Albany has said we can’t use what the [state] Constitution says we can.”
Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis gave Yasgur permission to explore the matter further.
Monticello resident Tom Manza, however, cautioned legislators that not everyone wants to see the tax cap repealed.
“We’re chasing people out of the county, and the average person feels there’s a lot of hidden money where the county can save,” he stated.
To back up that claim, Manza presented a list of overtime granted to county employees in 2010, totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Some people had $20,000-$30,000 in overtime,” Manza observed, noting he had cut overtime costs in his own business as a result of the recession.
“Some of these are [in] nursing, and a lot of these are mandated,” replied Legislator Elwin Wood.
“I’m not saying it’s all waste,” Manza responded, but he insisted the Legislature take a closer look.
“We are, Tom,” Legislator Jodi Goodman stated. “It’s been addressed. ... We don’t like overtime, as well.”
Another casino plan?
Yasgur has also been talking with the Wisconsin Oneidas, who he said have renewed interest in siting a casino locally.
He said he’s engaging in preliminary negotiations over mitigation payments similar to agreements struck with the St. Regis Mohawks and Stockbridge-Munsees because the New York branch of the Oneidas may be close to settling a land claim with the state.
Sunnyside Solar out of Guilford, Vermont has been selected by the county to design a solar array for the Robert B. Travis social services building in Liberty.
The cost cannot exceed $22,450.
Why you pay what you pay
Next year’s county tax bills will feature a breakdown of costs, if legislators approve a proposed law later this year.
The data would include the portion of taxes dedicated to state and federal mandates, including Medicaid and welfare, plus their impacts on the county.
With the names, addresses and other contact info included, the new bills seem designed to elicit actions from taxpayers in helping reduce unfunded state and federal mandates.
The public can comment on the proposal at this Thursday’s Legislature meeting at 1:30 p.m.