By Jessica Bakeman, Albany Bureau
ALBANY -- The state Association of Counties released a report Monday with recommendations for how the state can cut down on local governments' mandate costs, arguing that transferring more decision-making power to county officials will help save money.
Local officials have said that unfunded state mandates -- programs or regulations required by state law that use local funds -- are contributing to fiscal stress for most municipalities and could even to lead to financial insolvency for some. The 2 percent property-tax cap, which limits revenue that governments can raise through taxes, has confounded the problem, officials have said.
"Unless and until the state relieves some of these mandates, our counties will continue to face structural deficits," said Stephen Acquario, the association's executive director, in a statement. "Counties are doing their part to lower the costs they can control, but they have no ability to reduce the costs handed down by Albany."
New York's counties combined are projected to experience a fiscal gap of more than $10 billion over the next five years, according to the report.
Counties are currently operating under more than 40 state mandates, the report said. Just nine of those programs' local costs are projected to outpace property-tax revenues by $130 million in 2013.
The report's authors offered 51 recommendations for mandate relief. Counties are asking for the state to allow them more decision-making power, which the report's authors suggest will cut costs.
For example, to provide relief for preschool special-education mandates, counties suggest allowing them more say in the placement and transportation of each child. Operating the state-mandated program costs counties $637 million annually; the state's share is $936 million.
The report argues that although counties pay 40.5 percent of costs for preschool special education, school districts and parents have the power to decide where students are placed. Authors argue that counties should have a say so they might advocate for the most cost-efficient provider.
Also in the report, authors suggest the state gradually take over all local costs associated with Medicaid. They suggest the state generate new revenue for this purpose by enacting the recommendations of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Medicaid Redesign Team, a group tasked with finding and eliminating inefficiencies in Medicaid spending, and by utilizing savings that will follow full implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act.
"When you consider the inflationary pressures of rising local costs, health insurance and more 30 other state mandated programs, the gap is crippling and becoming unmanageable," said Edward Diana, counties association president and the Orange County Executive, in a statement. "It is critical for state representatives to understand that these fiscal gaps are forcing counties to govern by triage and the decisions being made are at tremendous local sacrifice."