'Don't blame us' doesn't wash for county tax bill
“Don’t blame us,” the letter said, if you read between the lines.
The entire thrust of the letter was to let taxpayers know that almost 40 percent of the total 2014 budget — close to $95 million — is due to “unfunded state mandates,” costs that are a result of federal and state requirements that are out of the county’s control.
But the letter offers not a word about the 60 percent of the budget — almost $143 million — the board of supervisors does control.
Nothing about employees’ salaries, raises and benefits, which ultimately translate into pensions for decades to come. Nothing about roadwork. Or sewage treatment. Or staffing for the sheriff’s department and the county jail.
Not that county spending is a secret. You can wade through the 245-page budget line by line at http://www.saratogacountyny.gov/?p=3096. If you hit the Control + F keys, you can search for a word. For instance, search “Medicaid” and the search will pick up the word on about a dozen lines, including some for Social Services staff. But search “pension” and get zilch.
Glad that the official budget is easily accessible online, but wish it was easier to assemble the data in a meaningful way. The unfunded mandates letter isn’t much better.
The letter offers no explanation with its list of eight “unfunded mandates,” which includes the county’s contribution for Saratoga residents attending community college in neighboring counties, since Saratoga has no community college of its own.
The eight mandates in the letter are:
• Medicaid, $25.4 million
• Pensions, $12.8 million
• Community colleges, $6.8 million
• Early intervention and pre-school, $6.5 million
• Social services, $6.8 million
• Probation, $2 million
• Legal defense, $1.4 million
• Public health early intervention, $361,000.
The flip side of the letter consists of names, addresses, phone numbers and emails for state and federal lawmakers, a not-so-subtle encouragement for taxpayers to express their outrage at having to support probation services and other “unfunded mandates.” Missing from the letter is even a single name, let alone an address or phone number for any of the 23 elected members of the county Board of Supervisors. (You find most, though inexplicably not all, on saratogacountyny.gov.)
The frustration prompting the letter is almost understandable. County government relies on property taxes, and county supervisors rely on taxpayers’ votes to stay in office.
Besides, some mandated expenses are aggravatingly expensive. After all, New York is known for providing the Cadillac of Medicaid offerings. But other so-called unfunded mandates are part of the cost of being a civilized society, like aid to dependent children under the “social services” heading. And “pensions” are the anchor that will drown taxpayers of governments and schools everywhere if elected leaders, including those running the county, fail to change the system.
Instead of “the state made me do it,” the board of supervisors should send a letter with a simple summary of major expenses, with notations about how the spending was justified — and contact information for every representative.
Labels: The Saratogian