Poughkeepsie... There will be a large degree of budget uncertainty that will confront counties in 2007 with a changed administration in Albany. What compounds the uncertainty is that the state budget for 2007-08 developed by the new governor and state legislature won’t be adjusted until mid-year when counties are in the middle of the budget year.
However, certainty does exist with regard to increased costs to county government for New York State mandated services in 2007. As county budgets are prepared and adopted across the state this fall, state imposed mandates are still the dominant and growing portion of every county’s budgetary pie.
Dutchess County’s 2007 operating budget will be no exception. The 2007 budget is currently being developed by County Executive William R. Steinhaus with dozens of departmental, executive and budget office staff.
Listed below are just a few examples of the 2007 Dutchess budget impact.
According to a new Public Policy Institute analysis, New York’s Medicaid spending is still more than twice the per capita national average. As of 2005, New York State led the nation with total Medicaid costs of $43.4 billion – some $9.5 billion more than second-place California. New York’s average of $2,258 in Medicaid spending for every state resident was also the nation’s highest, well over twice the national average, and far ahead of states such as Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Included in Dutchess County’s 2007 budget will be a state-required 3.25% growth rate in local costs to pay for the state’s bloated Medicaid program. Medicaid remains a growing mandate which will require more than $37 million in funds directly out of the pockets of local Dutchess property taxpayers in 2007. This is an increase of more than $1.1 million over the current year cost.
County Executive Steinhaus said, “County officials across the state fought for years to change the Medicaid funding formula. This state mandate is still beyond our ability to control, and local property taxpayers are still being required by state legislators to pay more each year.”
Other New York state mandates requiring significant new spending by county government in 2007 include Pre-School Special Education and Early Intervention related services for children from birth through five years old, a program administered through the Dutchess County Health Department. In 2006, approximately $17.7 million had to be appropriated for the mandated services. The same services will cost Dutchess County property taxpayers more than $20 million in 2007, a startling 15% increase, due to state requirements.
State Training School placements for 2007 are projected to increase to $2.1 million, a shocking increase of 58% more than the 2006 adopted budget. This sizeable increase is due primarily to the recent state decision to make retroactive rate adjustments going back to 2001. With no prior warning from state officials, these unanticipated and unbudgeted retroactive costs for Dutchess County alone are expected to be an unbelievable $1.5 million in additional county cost this year over the previous budgeted appropriation of $1.375 million.
Counties are also mandated to pay attorney’s fees for certain indigent individuals, as well as state parolees, who must be represented in court. This mandated state cost has increased dramatically in the recent few years when the state increased the hourly rates by more than two-fold. Dutchess County will be forced to appropriate more than $2.5 million in 2007 for these court-ordered assigned counsel expenses mandated by New York State. Just another example of the hit on local property taxpayers thanks to laws forced on counties by state lawmakers.
Steinhaus said, “Unfortunately, New York state mandated expenses are those that county elected officials have no choice but to fund. These mandates drive up homeowner property taxes, leaving county officials with few discretionary opportunities to fund those programs and services we know are important to our residents. Each year my goal is to balance our priorities with fiscal prudence and accountability so we can provide the taxpayers with cost effective returns.”
The County Executive’s proposed budget will be released by November 1. The County Legislature is expected to begin review of the budget in early November and will adopt the budget in December.