Sullivan County’s new legislature is in the process of developing its first budget. County officials have been hard at work figuring out how they can continue to operate our county by not raising taxes above and beyond tax caps placed by New York State.
Economic development continues to languish and state mandates are killing us. The County is already operating at the core, as more and more people are receiving some form of public assistance through social services programs. These programs are costing taxpayers a fortune. On top of that sales tax revenues are at record lows.
Our legislators clearly have a mess on their hands. Social Service programs such as Medicaid are killing us.
What has angered so many is not that people need social service programs during this economic downturn, but that Sullivan County appears to have become an easy street for those seeking public assistance.
Those in nursing homes, our elderly, and veterans have been productive members of Sullivan County and paid taxes, due to circumstances beyond their control they are now on Medicaid. Many others such as the handicapped legitimately deserve public assistance.
What has raged taxpayers is the abuse and how people appear to be beating the system.
We have all heard stories about transients who get off the Shortline Bus and are immediately placed in motels and are given meal vouchers. We have all heard stories about outrageous amounts of monies billed by vendors with social service contracts.
Are people really moving to Sullivan County instead of other counties because our social service system is so lax? If so, what is Sullivan County doing to resolve this problem?
New York is one of only two states in the nation that requires counties to send locally generated tax dollars to the State for the Medicaid programs. The promise by state officials to relieve Counties from costly mandates has not been kept, and for a second year the County will have to fund programs at the expense of local services.
County Manager David Fanslau told me more than ninety-three percent of our property tax levies this year was consumed to pay bills for the services that NYS requires to be provided on their behalf, and yet fail to fund the own programs.
The largest bill sent to Sullivan County each year is Medicaid. This single program is projected to consume $21 million in 2012, and the cost increases each year by approximately $550,000. While legislation has been passed to gradually assume the cost of the annual increase in Medicaid expenses, we will still be responsible for a $21 million.
NYS must join forty-eight other states, and to take over the full costs of Medicaid, and take the expenses off of the backs of the property taxpayers of Sullivan County.
According to Fanslau the property tax cap approved in Albany last year gives taxpayers the false impression that the rate of tax increases would slow. NYS has not slowed increases in the cost of their programs. A 2% property tax cap would generate approximately $1 million in additional revenue, while the projected increased cost of state mandated programs alone is $1.4 million.
Fanslau told me, “No one wants to see property taxes increase, but no one wants to see our roads and bridges fall into disrepair either. Residents deserve to have adequate public safety and to feel safe in their neighborhoods. If the County is to maintain its local services, then New York State must assume fiscal responsibility for mandated programs.”
Needless to say, we all feel the budget pain that is about to hit us.