ALBANY - Meeting with Gov. Paterson and other top state officials, county executives from across the state expressed their dismay this last week over unfunded mandates and lagging reimbursements by the state.
Also, they voiced concern about the additional financial burden to local taxpayers of ever more state program expenses being shifted to local municipalities.
The local officials met with Paterson and Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch as they convened in Albany for the annual meeting of the New York State County Executives Association.
Compounding their concern this week was Gov. David Paterson's executive order that 10 percent of pending state aid payments to schools and local governments, a total of $750 million, would be delayed due to a state cash shortfall.
Estimating that the state would fall $1 billion short of the sum needed to pay bills due this past Tuesday, Paterson blamed the need to delay payments on the Legislature's failure to cut spending to schools and health care.
At their recent meeting, the executives talked about the need to make dramatic structural differences in order to realign the state's programs and services delivered at the county level - a system that has driven New York's property taxes to be among the highest in the nation, according to Orange County Executive Ed Diana, president of the County Executives Association.
The local municipal officials voiced concern with the potential that the state's payments for local programs and services are delayed by the Governor in order to keep the state from running out of cash. The areas that would be affected by delayed payment include public health, mental health, social programs, transportation projects and public safety.
"Most of our counties do not have the reserves to absorb delayed or denied state reimbursement. In some cases they would have to borrow for short term to keep their budgets balanced for the remainder of the fiscal year," said Diana.
This past January, Warren County borrowed several million dollars because state reimbursements were over two months late.
Warren County Treasurer Frank O'Keefe has warned county supervisors that payments are likely to be just as tardy this coming January, if not worse, than in 2009.
This week, Gov. Paterson announced he was withholding 10 percent of reimbursements to municipalities and school districts for various programs, many of them mandated
Monday, county officials discussed options they might have to undertake in response to the late reimbursements, whether it was planning for more borrowing, or reducing the services for which the payments were being withheld.
Tuesday some county Supervisors suggested cutting programs regardless of their mandated status - because the state was withholding and delaying payments.
County Attorney Paul Dusek warned that such action might be contrary to state law.