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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 5, 2012

McCoy launches “listening” tour
By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — “Unfunded mandates are killing us,” said Daniel McCoy, Albany County’s executive since January, as he opened a town board meeting on Tuesday night.

McCoy was kicking off his “listening tour,” during which he will visit the municipalities across the county and ask for residents’ input on important services, and explain the changes the county is considering, and the reasons for them.

“We have to find new ways to do business, ways that will also cost us less money,” McCoy stressed throughout his speech.

The county has a budget of $560 million this year. Many of the changes the county is looking at directly affect its 19 municipalities. The biggest source of revenue for the town of Guilderland, like other municipalities in Albany County, is sales tax.

Guilderland Supervisor Kenneth Runion said roughly 90 percent of the town’s revenues come from sales tax.

The county collects sales tax revenues and distributes them to the different municipalities using a formula based on population. Albany County Comptroller Mike Connors told The Enterprise earlier that the county collects a roughly 8-percent sales tax; 4 percent of that revenue goes to the state of New York, and the other 4 percent is split 60/40 between the county and the 19 towns, villages, and cities within the county.

One of McCoy’s suggestions is to freeze the distribution of sales-tax revenue at its current figures, and discard the formula in coming years.

In March 2010, shortly after McCoy was elected as chairman of the county legislature, he suggested cutting sales-tax revenue shares completely.

“There is nothing in state statute that says we have to give that money back to the municipalities. Other counties keep it for themselves,” McCoy told The Enterprise two years ago.

“I do not foresee a backlash on the part of municipal leaders. We give them so much,” said McCoy in 2010. But, there was a backlash, and municipal leaders were adamant that even a re-configuration of the sales-tax revenues distribution would be problematic.

Now municipalities may be forced to re-visit the issue as a real possibility.

“Capping sales tax revenue and having the 2-percent tax-levy cap means we’d be capped on both sides,” Runion told The Enterprise yesterday. “We’d have an inability to provide the services we have now.”

McCoy said the county has its hands tied, too.

“We share $94 million of sales tax revenue with the municipalities,” said McCoy. “Although all the municipalities have their own unfunded mandates, we have so much more to deal with.”

The biggest expenses in the budget for the county include Medicaid — which accounts for 77.2 percent of the county’s tax levy and increased by $1.5 million this year — and pension costs, which make up 14.3 percent of the tax levy. Public assistance also accounts for 10 percent of the tax levy.

The problem, said Runion, is that municipalities also face these costs. Guilderland has had its required contributions to the retirement fund increase by nearly 30 percent.

“Everything is increasing at much higher rates than 2 percent — which is what the cap is,” said Runion. “We’re all stuck in the same boat,” he said, referring to both the county and all its municipalities.

McCoy also spoke about the county’s nursing home, which, during his campaign for election, he said he would not consider closing. Now, he said, he is “looking at different options.”

His predecessor and fellow Democrat, Michael Breslin, had recommended closing the facility, which was widely criticized.

“I was always an advocate for the seniors and the nursing home — I said I would never waiver from that, and I haven’t, but now I’m saying we have to look at everything,” said McCoy on Tuesday.

The county executive outlined four choices — build a new facility and manage it at the county level; hire an outside management company; explore the option of a public-benefit corporation; or transfer the license to a third party.

“Even if we shut our doors on our nursing home, we still have to pay $10 million for our seniors…We don’t escape paying for them,” said McCoy.

Albany County does not have its own community college — Hudson Valley Community College is in Rensselaer County and Schenectady County Community College is in Schenectady County.

Since Albany does not have a community college, the county is required to help pay tuition for residents to attend colleges outside the county. McCoy told Runion the county spends $800,000 annually to send Guilderland residents to HVCC, and that the county may consider passing that cost on to the municipality.

“If the county passed on tuition expenses, we’d basically have to double property taxes,” said Runion.

McCoy is also exploring the option of creating an Albany County Community College.

The biggest area of exploration, and one that has already seen some forward motion, is shared services and consolidation.

McCoy said he has taken action to combine the departments of Health and Mental Health; moved the purchasing department under Management and Budget; discussed the feasibility of a county-wide Domestic Violence Court; and, last week, had a meeting to discuss applying for grants for shared service studies. (See related story.)

“It’s a different world with a 2-percent cap,” McCoy concluded.

“I don’t think the county can handle it any other way than they are right now,” said Runion. “For all of us, it is basically a question of, ‘How long can we weather the storm?’”

Other venues where Daniel McCoy will appear are the Watervliet City Hall, on April 5; the Coeymans Town Hall, on April 9; the Bethlehem Town Hall, on April 11; the Green Island Village Meeting at the Municipal Center, on April 16; the Berne Senior Center, on April 23; the Voorheesville Village Hall, on April 24; the Colonie Town Board meeting, on May 3; the New Scotland Town Hall, on May 9; the Cohoes Common Council Meeting, on May 22; the Altamont Village Hall, on June 5; and the Ravena Village Hall, on July 17.

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