At a hearing giving the public a chance to weigh in on the proposed 2013 Genesee County budget, five people showed up to speak.
Three of the speakers addressed funding for Genesee County Economic Development Council, one spoke on veterans issues and the fifth told legislators they need to find a way to balance the budget without raising taxes.
Kyle Couchman and John Roach both spoke out against spending more than $200,000 to underwrite the EDC's economic development efforts.
Couchman said he liked the idea of holding the funding in reserve until GCEDC came forward during the year with specific justifications for its expenditure.
"I came here tonight because I wanted to be a voice for the community, for the people who don’t always get to the meetings but have a strong feeling on this issue," Couchman said.
Roach (top photo), who also addressed veterans issues, said there are other things some $200,000 could be spent on, from reducing the county's debt to holding it a reserve fund for a new jail.
GCEDC doesn't need the money, Roach said. The county does.
Charlie Cook, the incoming chairman of the board for GCEDC, spoke up for continued funding from the county.
Cook, who is owner and CEO of Liberty Pumps in Bergen, used his own company as an example of how GCEDC aids business growth.
He said 13 years ago, Liberty Pumps had a 33,000-square-foot building and employed 50 people. Today, after two expansion projects, Liberty Pumps employs 130 people.
"Our people pay taxes and support the local economy," Cook said. "It’s impossible to put a price tag on the impact of growing employment and the ripple effect of those incomes in the community. More employment creates other jobs, enhances the tax base, supports the residential real estate market and retail economy and provides much needed resources to local communities and schools."
The county's support of GCEDC sends an important message about the community being united behind economic growth, Cook said.
"It’s deeply disappointing and discouraging to me as a volunteer that the GCEDC -- an organization whose sole purpose is to benefit the community and its residents -- is threatened with abandonment by that community," Cook said.
More than a dozen veterans showed up to the meeting. There had been concern recently in the veterans community about the Veterans Services office being located inside the Department of Social Services.
County Manager Jay Gsell is now working on a plan to move the office, and make it its own department again, either at the Job Development office on East Main Street or the VA hospital.
Jim Neider, speaking for many of the veterans present, said either proposal helped relieve much of the concern in the veterans community.
Roach said he favored the job development location because of better parking and, he noted, the VA center serves veterans from all over the region. If they see a veterans services office there, they may not realize it's there only to serve Genesee County residents.
Former Legislator John Sackett also spoke. He knocked the legislature for blaming other agencies for mandated spending as an excuse for a tax increase when there are still cuts in the budget that can be made.
He complained that employees and elected officials are not being asked to give back some of their benefits, especially in the area of health care. He questioned any deficit spending on the county nursing home. And he said the county shouldn't be creating two new staff positions.
The meeting opened with remarks by Legislative Chair Mary Pat Hancock followed by a budget overview from Gsell.
The headline out of Gsell's talk was that the county is exploring options for selling or transferring the nursing home to another entity.
The county cannot afford, year after year, Gsell said, ongoing operating losses from the nursing home.
The nursing home will not be closed, he said. It will not be abandoned. Employees won't lose their jobs. Patients will not be put out on the street.
Gsell said state and federal mandates continue to eat up most of the revenue generated for the county from property taxes and the top nine mandates consume 78 percent of the tax levy.
Counties in 48 of the 50 states don't have these mandates, Gsell said.
"Recent comments by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and I quote, 'For many years, they (local governments), just put their hands deeper into the pockets of the taxpayers and the taxpayers have left' would give you the impression that county governments in New York State volunteered to get into the funding of benefits programs such as Medicaid, EI/pre-K services, indigent defense, Safety Net, etc. Governor -- we did not!
"The state dictated to county governments to pony up and help the state shoulder the burden," Gsell added. "Hence, the New York State imposed property tax."
The county's $145 million spending plan includes a .08 cents per thousand property tax increase, making the rate $9.97 per thousand. The rate increase is four cents below would could be raised under the property tax cap. To help balance the budget, the county will spend $2.5 million from reserves.
The budget is up nearly $4 million over last year. All of the increased spending is driving by mandates expenses, particularly in Medicaid and employee pensions.
The budget is scheduled for adoption Nov. 28.