County budget leans heavy on reserve funds

Madison County chair says state tax cap is ‘unsustainable’

The Madison County Board of Supervisors met on Nov. 29 for the public hearing on the 2012 budget.

The Madison County Board of Supervisors met on Nov. 29 for the public hearing on the 2012 budget. Andrew Casler

— Executive Director of the New York State Association of Counties Stephen Acquario,said that most of the state’s counties are over-utilizing surplus funds to make their budgets, and they are using a dangerous strategy.

“The danger of local governments using fund balances is that if we have natural disasters, which just hit our state rather hard a few months ago, the governments will not have the ability to use emergency reserves for emergency purposes,” Acquario said. “That’s why the state must provide mandate relief, so that the local governments can maintain a healthy emergency reserve and stop raising property taxes to pay for state-mandated programs.”

According to the NYSAC, nine state-mandated programs consume 90 percent of the property tax money levy for all counties outside of New York City. Medicaid is the most expensive mandate, which costs the state $53 billion annually.

The tax cap originated with Governor Andrew Cuomo. When signing the tax cap into law, the governor said, “It will mean governments will have to live within their means and balance their budgets.”

This July, the governor announced that his top goal in 2012 will be curbing public pension benefits. Government pensions are the second most expensive state mandate.

For the most expensive state mandate, the governor created the Medicaid Redesign Team this January. In November the panel introduced its recommendations, but specifics about the savings or costs of the new recommendations have not yet been worked out.

An alternative to using reserve money is overriding the tax cap. According to the state comptroller’s office, 28 percent of counties plan to override the tax cap, as of Nov. 28.

Municipalities are required to have a 60 percent majority of the total voting power of its governing body in favor of the override to exceed a 2 percent property tax increase.

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