KINGSTON – Terry Bernardo, Chair of the Ulster County Legislature, proffered a deal to town supervisors that would give relief to the sometimes crushing Safety Net payments in return for sending all of their garbage to the county's Resource Recovery Agency. However, most of the supervisors attending the monthly meeting of the Ulster County Association of Town Supervisors (UCATS) weren't rushing to sign on.
"Safety Net should be a county responsibility," said Marbletown's Michael Warren. "They should just bite the bullet," and assume the 71 percent share not covered by state funds.
"They're not going to do that," Bernardo stated flatly.
Susan Zimet, the New Paltz supervisor, pointed out, "It's just a shell game. The state is causing this to happen, we should demand a meeting [with the governor's office] jointly with the Chair of the Legislature."
Bernardo said she is also working at the state level, "trying to at least get the formula back to 50-50."
Safety Net funding provides housing and other welfare payments required under New York State's constitution, but the state legislature has shifted more and more of the cost onto county coffers. Ulster County is the only county in the state which passes those costs onto the towns. It does not, however, automatically pass on any additional aid it receives from the state to pay those costs. Bernardo indicated she was hopeful the county executive would make that choice for the coming budget year.
Meanwhile, the county RRA is asking for a 110 percent increase in its subsidy from the county this year because the tipping fees it collects aren't enough to cover its mandated expenses, including maintaining a number of old landfills in perpetuity and trucking garbage to a landfill near Syracuse. Flow control, which would require all garbage haulers to use the agency, is being touted as a way to increase the agency's income without triggering tax cap problems.
"You can just raise your transfer station fees," Bernardo said with a smile.
Those fees will have to go up as municipalities and waste haulers are forced to pay the RRA's tipping fees, which are not always the least expensive.
"It still means that some towns are subsidizing others," said Warren.
Rochester's Carl Chipman agreed, saying, "UCRRA was created with the intention of making a county landfill, and without that it's not competitive. Turning it into a monopoly doesn't help."
Bernardo sought to draw the two ideas together, saying, "The City of Kingston is going to get the biggest hike in its fees."
The implication would be that a partial or total takeover of Safety Net expenses would yield a disproportionate benefit to the city. No representative from Kingston was on hand to hear the discussion.
Warren was skeptical state intervention was forthcoming.
"Ulster County is the only one that does it this way," he said. "The governor will say, 'You guys are out of step, you fix it.'"
Getting the welfare program off town budgets is a high priority for the supervisors. Jim Quigley of Ulster re-levied his Safety Net from last year, in the hopes that it would instead impact the county's tax cap calculations rather than his town's. But there's still no clear ruling on it.
"We all need to write letters to the State Comptroller and ask for an opinion," he urged.
With no opinion forthcoming, he added, "I'm going to have to pay this out of my reserves."
Next month the supervisors expect to hear from County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach, whose scheduled talk on his proposal for countywide tax assessments was postponed from this month's meeting.
"Please bring along your assessors," urged Shawangunk Supervisor John Valk, who is chair of the association.