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State’s Budget Figures Don’t All Add Up For County

OSWEGO, NY – The state’s estimate of the savings counties will receive if Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget is approved may not be a lofty as state officials say, according to one county representative.

On Friday afternoon, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy addressed about four dozen Oswego city and county officials as well as members of the public.

Assemblyman Will Barclay, Senator Patty Ritchie joined with Fred Beardsley, county legislature chair; Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen; and Beth Hilton, director of the Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce, to welcome the lieutenant governor.

According to Duffy, Cuomo’s plan for pension reform will save Oswego County taxpayers $410 million, over a period of 30 years.

The county would also save approximately $6 million (over the next five years) under the governor’s proposed changes for payments for Medicaid, preschool special education and early intervention programs, the lieutenant governor said.

Oswego County Administrator Philip Church and other county officials calculated the savings with the state’s figures, and came up with different numbers, he said following Duffy’s presentation.

“That $6 million figure he said, we cannot duplicate or confirm the numbers the state is saying,” Church said.

Over fiver years, Medicaid would save the county $3.9 million; pre-school another $1.8 million and early intervention about $120,000, Church said.

“Our people who live and work and breathe these reimbursement numbers in these claims day in and day out as their career worked the numbers and they cannot duplicate or confirm the numbers that the state is saying,” he noted.

Church added that he is pleased the governor is taking on the challenge of mandate relief.

“But, his current proposals don’t go far enough,” he added.

The biggest burden on the county’s budget is the Medicaid payments, he said.

“Every week, we’re sending a half-million dollars to Albany for Medicaid, every week,” Church said. “Every week, we write a check for a half-million dollars to the state of New York.”

Twenty-five million dollars of the $42 million the county raises in taxes goes to New York State in the form of Medicaid payments, he pointed out.

“Starting in the county fiscal year for 2015, the state will pay 100 percent of the costs of Medicaid growth,” Duffy said. “The takeover by the state of greater share of local Medicaid expenses will save counties and New York City $1.2 billion over the next five years.

The five-year total savings for the county would be $3,925,828, he added.

It appears the state didn’t subtract out the increases that will occur in the program over the next three years, Church said. In that timeframe, the county still will see its share of Medicaid increase by $1.5 million, he said.

“Our legislature still supports the (state senate and assembly) bills for the eight-year takeover of Medicaid payments by the state.

“If that eight-year phase in were adopted, over the course of those eight years, Oswego County would be able to cut its property taxes,” Church said.

Oswego County would see a savings of $1,876,000 over five years with changes to the preschool special education program, according to Duff.

“The reform there is a good idea,” Church said. “What it does is requires school districts to start paying for the program. What the proposal is from the governor is that from here on out, any increased cost in that program, not total cost but increased cost, would be split three ways between counties, state and schools.”

That will be wonderful for some counties, he noted. For Oswego County, however, they haven’t seen any increase, the trend is downward.

“So, there’s no savings projected there for us,” Church said. “Unless our numbers of participants start going up.”

Church said county officials couldn’t duplicate the $120,000 figure the state says the county would save from proposed changes in the early intervention program.

“We are able to project at the most, over the course of five years, the total savings for the county would be, at the most, about $85,000.”

“The overall message is we are glad the governor is beginning to address mandates, but it isn’t enough right now. Direct mandates, by themselves, in 2012, cost Oswego County taxpayers over $43 million,” Church continued. “Our real property tax levy is $42 (million). That means more than every dollar that property taxes raised in Oswego County goes to pay for state programs.”

The lieutenant governor called the proposed budget a good start.

“It’s a good start,” Church agreed, adding, “A better start would be a hard cap now, which is the first step of the eight-year takeover. It is encouraging that mandate relief is in the language of the budget.”