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New York Legislature Convenes

New York Assembly members meet in the Assembly Chamber on Wednesday the opening day of the legislative session at the state Capitol in Albany. The New York State Association Association of Counties is calling on the state to fund programs it is enacting.

ALBANY — County governments are urging state lawmakers to fund school resource officers for all districts and to spare them from having to foot the bill if New York adopts a “cashless” bail system for non-violent felonies and all misdemeanor offenses.

The push to end cash bail for so-called minor crimes is being led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Democratic allies in the state Assembly and Senate.

The drive to get funding to enhance the security of public schools by equipping them with resource officers was touted by Senate Republicans last year before that idea got bottled up by Assembly Democrats. The Senate flips this year to Democratic control.

Laundry list

The two goals are part of a laundry list of legislative priorities being advanced by the New York State Association of Counties.

The common thread running throughout the group’s agenda is that it wants the state to put its money where its mouth is when creating new programs or expanding existing ones that force county agencies to deliver the services to the public.

If lawmakers give the green light to marijuana legalization, as Cuomo suggests, then the state should cough up money to help with public education campaigns and help the counties to respond to the public health and safety impacts, NYSAC argued.

The counties also insist that the state should be reimbursing them for the costs of locking up parole violators kept in custody for more than 10 days.

They also want lawmakers to address what they say is a need for a “level playing field” between traditional taxi companies and rideshare operations such as Uber and Lyft.

High taxes

But the over-arching concern of the Association of Counties is New York’s high property tax rates, said the group’s director, Stephen Acquario.

“If there is one unifying call to action in our 2019 legislative program, it is asking the governor and state lawmakers to address unfunded state mandates currently paid for by local homeowners and businesses,” Acquario said.

As a former mayor of North Tonawanda, state Sen. Rob Ortt, R-Lockport, said the counties are correct in suggesting that many moves made by Albany have far-reaching consequences for local governments in New York.

He said the Raise the Age initiative, boosting the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 later this year, has brought with it additional responsibilities for counties, such as transporting young prisoners and having to hire more probation officers to deal with a population that can no longer be held with adult inmates.

Noting he has serious reservations with Cuomo’s cashless bail proposal, Ortt said that before lawmakers embrace it “we should address the concerns about the additional costs on the counties instead of saying we’re these great social justice warriors.”

If persons who have been arrested end up absconding, “the local governments should be able to cover the costs” of having to return them to the courts, he said.

Reimburse timely

The former head of the Franklin County Legislature, Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, said county governments have had plenty of experience being saddled with state mandates from Albany without getting the state aid to pay for the services.

“We should make sure we reimburse these counties — and do it in a timely manner so they’re not caught holding the bag, waiting several months to get the money back from the state,” Jones said.

Noting his top priority this year is to make New York’s property tax cap permanent, Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, said the focus of lawmakers should be “doing away with the unfunded mandates and to make sure we don’t shift additional burdens on the backs of local governments, particularly the counties.”

Reviewing any legislation in the new session should be done with the financial impacts the measures would have on local governments and taxpayers, said Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury.

“New state programs and services should come with funding out of the state budget, not the county,” Little said. “It’s not fair otherwise.”

Combine primaries

The counties’ wish-list also included suggestions that legislators move to combine state and federal primary elections or fund the cost of “duplicative” primaries.

NYSAC also urged that the state pay for early voting — allowing citizens to cast ballots in advance of traditional election days — should voting opportunities be expanded in the state.

Meanwhile, the cost of pay hikes for county district attorneys — their salaries are set by the state — should be paid by the state, NYSAC recommended.

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