Poughkeepsie… “As we head into 2011, we continue to experience an ongoing, multi-year downward financial spiral that has created a budget gap of nearly $40 million. The only way to close the budget gap will be restructuring county government with fewer services and programs. In 2011, the structure and profile of Dutchess County government must be different from what it is today and that will include a decrease in services delivered to residents. It is the only way to realistically cut spending and close the budget gap going forward,” said Dutchess County Executive William R. Steinhaus.
“Mandated county spending required by Albany politicians and the continuing damage from the overall economic downturn will require many tough and certainly some unpopular decisions,” said Steinhaus. “Instead of state mandate reform, we hear false, empty promises from leaders in Albany that property tax ‘caps’ will solve the property tax problem in New York. That’s simply not possible without getting rid of and reforming the costly state mandates.”
The County Executive said, “We began our budget development with how much revenue we think county government will receive in 2011, with initial projections from finance and budget staff indicating about $375 million. But expense projections for 2011 from all county departments and elected officials including the Sheriff, District Attorney, County Clerk and Comptroller totaled $415 million – and the $415 million was AFTER departments were told to submit a bare bones budget.”
“There are limited options to close such a large gap in the County’s 2011 budget: higher taxes; get Albany politicians to stop shoving state mandates down our throats; or cutting services residents receive,” said Mr. Steinhaus.
“Certainly, I understand higher county property taxes are not what any business or homeowner wants,” said Steinhaus, “but the onslaught of forced spending in the county budget by state senators and assemblymen is strangling county governments, so cutting direct services residents use is the only real option left.”
Steinhaus said, “To close the $40 million budget gap, the initial budget submissions from each department and elected official have been scrutinized and questioned. No new initiatives were considered in department budget submissions; only minimal expenses to determine if we could save current programs and services.”
“The challenge for each and every county agency is to restructure its organization and prioritize its services, knowing services for residents will have to be reduced,” added the Executive.
“We know from last years veto override’s when the County Legislature increased spending over my objections, county legislators will not want to cut programs and services. For the 2010 budget, the Legislature chose to override my vetoes and increase spending which really just put off the tough decisions for another year, compounding the 2011 budget gap problem in the process,” said Steinhaus.
Steinhaus emphasized, “People are going to have to wake up and accept the extra $40 million everyone wants to spend simply does not exist right now.”
The largest cost centers continue to grab up huge chunks of county funds – led by the Sheriff’s Patrols and Jail, along with the Health, Mental Health and Social Service departments.
- Sheriff’s Office and Jail: Sheriff Anderson’s initial 2011 spending plan totaled $45.3 million, a 3.7% increase over his 2010 adopted budget.
- Health, Mental Health and Social Services departments: driven by state mandates totaling tens of millions of dollars, expenses for these categories have been driven by county governments’ legal obligations to help families most hurt by the national recession. These departments are mandated by federal and state law to provide costly programs and services, without any local ability to change the state policies. These departments continue to struggle under the crushing weight of paying for state mandates.
Expenses are rising dramatically for mandated programs. Some of the projected expense increases for mandate programs delivered by the County’s Department of Social Services include:
- Children’s Services Committee for Special Education (CSE) Placements are projected to total up to $7.35 million, an increase of 7%.
- Institutional Care Placements are projected to total up to nearly $17.9 million, an increase of 12%.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) costs, including the Safety Net program, are projected to total as much as $17.5 million, an increase of 30% in 2011 as economic conditions continue to increase demand for these services.
Steinhaus said, “News about New York State finances continues to get worse with no expectation of any rebound on the near horizon. This is a scary sign for county governments who have historically seen the state expand mandate demands. County governments have no option with any of these state mandated programs or the imposed costs.”
“There are realities about what services county government can afford to provide; those realities may not meet people’s expectations,” concluded Steinhaus. “I am hopeful all county elected officials and agency leaders will join with me to find a balance between a budget that considers how much in county taxes our homeowners and businesses can pay with the services they expect. That will require tough choices for the 2011 budget.”
The County Executive added, “The Steinhaus Administration has not shied away from the tough choices in the past and has been on the forefront of budget solutions with proposals such as union givebacks which the Democrat-led County Legislature refused to even ask the unions to consider for 2009.”
Steinhaus concluded, “Over the next few weeks, all of us as residents of Dutchess County must ask ourselves, honestly and realistically . . . . What services do we expect from county government? How much are we willing to pay for those services and programs? Which of those services you personally receive would you be willing to give up to reduce the size and cost of county government?”