TICONDEROGA - While optimistic, local leaders are waiting for some definitive action following Gov. Andrew Cuomo's first State of the State address.
"I think the governor is definitely on the right track," Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said. "I think he'll be bipartisan and the Senate and Assembly will work together. The real credit for cooperation, though, goes to our constituents who sent a message last fall that they're tired of things as they are."
Cuomo proposed to cut state agencies by 20 percent, enact a state worker pay freeze, pursue ways to reduce costly state mandates on local government, and to redesign Medicaid, which now represents about half the cost of county government expenditures in New York State as he outlined steps to lead New York out of its multi-billion-dollar budget gap.
The plan called for imposing a one-year salary freeze on a large portion of public employees, capping state taxes and imposing a state spending cap at the rate of inflation.
Those are all good ideas, supervisors said.
"I support the property tax cap, but the state has to give us the tools to make it happen," Scozzafava said. "They have to make it less difficult for us to share services."
The Moriah supervisor said there many instances that towns, villages, school districts and fire districts could save money, but state law doesn't allow one taxing district to assist another.
"Why should the school have to go out and buy a plow and a sander when I have five of them sitting at the town garage?" Scozzafava asked. "When our plows drive through the village (Port Henry) to get to the other side of town we have to lift our plows. Some of these archaic laws have to be changed."
Scozzafava also urged the governor to review highway funding in the state. Towns now raise highway money through local property tax.
"The value of your property isn't relevant to highway use," he said. "Money for roads should come from related items."
He suggested a dedicated tax on motor vehicle registration fees, tires, car sales and gasoline.
Ticonderoga Supervisor Deb Malaney said Cuomo's plan includes some painful, but necessary, cuts along with opportunities.
"Now we know the plan," she said. "It includes extreme belt tightening combined with growth opportunities.
"Gov. Cuomo is telling us all to step up to the plate and he is providing some tools for us to carve out a new, more efficient future," Malaney said. "The creation of Regional Economic Development Councils focusing on job creation offers a great opportunity. He also stated commitment to tourism as an economic engine, and it certainly is for us. I would expect to see regional benefits in this area since we have the key elements of history, natural resources, scenic beauty.
"Another area of optimism and potential for sustainable local business creation is the governor's commitment to providing fresh foods into urban markets and beyond," she added. "We have an opportunity to capitalize on the growing trend of demand for locally-grown food in urban and rural areas that lack healthy food options. We have miles of agricultural land in the fertile Champlain Valley that once was and could be again a major source of produce and meat. Creation of the Share NY Food with Community program in tandem with the new Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs which are direct partnerships between farmers and consumers, I believe has great potential for numerous, sustainable small businesses."
Malaney also likes Cuomo's property tax cap proposal.
"The property tax cap is an important tax relief measure for all of us, however, it also poses serious concerns for municipalities," she said. "Gov. Cuomo has proposed a 2 percent cap; one of the two exceptions for exceeding the cap will be extraordinary capital expenditures; let's hope the mandated Gooseneck water project qualifies for this. Time and more clarification will tell.
"We've known this was coming and have been planning all year," she continued. "Ti has already laid out initial groundwork for better efficiency with 0 percent increases to wage bases; reducing the workforce by attrition, offering the New York State early retirement initiative and replacing the full time positions with very limited part-timers as needed; by consolidating our sewer and water department; and by cross-utilizing employees between departments as best we can within union contract limitations.
"North Country folk are smart, resourceful and resilient," Malaney said. "We will face the challenges and do what needs to be done, with optimism."
Crown Point Supervisor Bethany Kosmider found hope in the speech.
"I think there is reason for optimism when Gov. Cuomo talked about trimming government and ethics reform," she said. "Capping property taxes and cutting spending brings hope and is also a standard promise by most politicians.
"The newly-elected are always under scrutiny and yet people have hope," Kosmider said. "I believe Gov. Cuomo will be a strong advocate for the North Country and his spending plans are more realistic than what Albany has delivered over the past decade. You don't spend what you don't have and that is something our legislators need to learn.
"There is hope in Crown Point and I will continue to work towards solutions for our town while working with the governor's office to bring relief to our residents," she concluded.
Schroon Supervisor Cathy Moses was pleased with the speech.
"If he sticks to what he says he'll have lots of support, including mine, especially on a couple of the items which are important to me personally," Moses said. "I agree 100 percent with our county chair that employees should be considering holding wages to avoid layoffs. How interesting that it was one of the governor's proposals.
Moses thinks Cuomo's plans to revamp Medicaid are good.
"We are the gravy state of the Union," she said. "I am all for helping people. Unfortunately, I see way too much abuse of the system and instead of helping it seems to be a dependency program. I wish the governor well in bringing this very expensive program under control."
Moses also likes Cuomo's comments on education and his plans to reward high-achieving schools.
"It is also long overdue to make school administration and teachers accountable," she said. "We are fortunate, here in Schroon Lake and Ticonderoga especially, where we do have great performance as exhibited by the awards we have recently received - just sorry we couldn't have received some of the funds now being set up to reward that performance. It certainly looks like we will be in line to receive some of the new proposed funding.
"In my opinion, it is not just the schools though," Moses said. "Every entity should be held accountable for their paycheck. In these times, especially, we need to be giving 150 percent. We need to get back to some of the old ethics we were brought up on - like an honest day's work for an honest day's pay."
The Schroon supervisor took note of Cuomo's emphasis on ethics.
"To me a person of his word is the one I will respect," she said. "I try very hard not to make promises I cannot keep and state that repeatedly. Too many politicians are making promises only to find out that they are unable to keep them. That makes all of us look bad. They need to think and research before they speak. There's way too much back-peddling going on."
A brief passage in the speech concerned Scozzafava. Cuomo noted employment should not be a consideration in decisions on keeping prisons open.
A year ago the state budget proposal called for closing the Moriah Shock Prison in Mineville. That would have cost the community more than 100 jobs, but the proposal was eventually eliminated from budget plans.
"I got a little nervous when I heard those comments," Scozzafava said. "But we made our case last year, so I don't foresee that happening again."