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Funding GCEDC debated at county budget hearing

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.

Kyle Couchman
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Thanks Howard, It was hard for me to get up in front of a governing body to speak again since I havent done it for several years. (By the way its Couchman not Coachman Smile )

But deep down inside I do have a desire to speak and try to represent people that while having strong convictions, for whatever reason cant or dont have the capacity to get up in front of people in charge and speak.

Because I do use many local media outlets I did not mention the Batavian by name but I wont be so shy next time Howard. My preference is here but I do bounce to other sources as well. Wink

It felt good though to get things off my chest I am almost of a mind that if people are unable to speak for themselves maybe getting together with like minded people and turnig in signatures of supporting citizens with statements like this will impress upon our local representatives the will of their constituants. Nice meeting you John, despite our disagreement on Kathy Hochul, this subject is one we can agree on. I also liked the idea of giving more to the Holland Land Office museum as Jeff is a close friend of my wife (Call Jeff.... Junkyard Dog sometime and watch is reaction lol ) I dont think he'd know what to do first if the county dropped $200,000 in his lap, but I'm sure he'd put it to good use Smile

Dave Olsen
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Hey, good job Kyle and John going to the meeting and putting yourselves out there. I know it's not an easy thing to do, so thanks to both of you.

Kyle Couchman
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Thanks Dave, now that I dipped my toe in the waters I might (note I said might) start showing up to more city and county stuff as appropriate. That being said I have a little seed that started last night of maybe finding a time or 2 that some of us regular forum posters can get together and maybe develop some way to get the support of those that find it to difficult to get to these things to get their voices heard. I am willing to do some kind of statement and perhaps turning in a written copy of it with signatures of like minded people might show them that we doin have opinions and suggestions that dont get to them. As well as that we can organize a bit to make our opinions known. Might give them thoughts during election years LOL. Just a seed tho at the moment.

Dave Olsen
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That idea is being worked on, sit tight. I'm sure your input will be welcomed.

Edit input to "participation"

Kyle Couchman
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LOL Dave..... sitting tight is uncomfortable but I can patiently wait LOL

Mark Brudz
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I love it when people step up and speak out directly to the politicians, it is easy to post an opinion on a blog, but it shows something when someone gets up infront of legislatures and tells them their views face to face///

Good Show John & Kyle

Mark Potwora
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Kyle great idea.John and Kyle it takes alot to stand up and speak you mind..Great job to both of you..Do you think the legislators were behind your suggestions..

John Roach
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Mark,
Four legislators brought up cutting the GCEDC. One, Mary Pat Hancock, wants to continue the funding. Some, like Democrat Ed DeJaneiro, have taken no stand.

We basically said we support the four legislators efforts. Would have been better had the people who want to control the GCEDC came out in the same numbers as the Veterans. That would have made an impact.

If the veterans can do, why not others?

Lisa Falkowski
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This was a first for me. I want to thank all of the community members who spoke - great job. I appreciate the support you are offering and your bravery in speaking directly to the politicians who need to hear the people's cries.

Bob Harker
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Kyle, as much as I disagree with funding the GCEDC, I find your comments regarding the HLOM illustrative why we are overtaxed. Spending 200K is OK because someone close to you would benefit? How does the HLOM REALLY benefit the community, other than being something a select few hang their hats on as their self proclaimed contribution to the community? How does it REALLY benefit the average taxpayer?

Kyle Couchman
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While I do support HLOM Bob, I wasnt literally expecting the whole thing to go to them. As far as the benefit, I cant speak for John but just on its face investing in parks and museums is helpful as no matter what we all face hard times and having places to get away to become important. Also history can offer some pretty amazing re assurances during rough time, especially when looking at very dark times like the 1920s stock market crash, the great depression, the shame of the nation overreacting during WWII with Japanese internment camps. All thing that have striking similarities to events today. Sometimes hope is a valueable commodity.

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