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Regional county leaders meet, discuss unfunded mandates


Poughkeepsie, NY – A common refrain from county leaders in New York often focuses on two words - unfunded mandates. WAMC's Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Greg Fry reports on a conference held Thursday in Poughkeepsie, which had a common theme

Leaders from seven counties in the Hudson Valley sat side-by-side to pass that message along to more than 350 people, at a conference held by Pattern for Progress, a Newburgh-based non-profit public policy research and planning institute. It's the third year in a row the organization has held this type of event, but this year, it comes on the heels of the passage of a new state budget in Albany.

Along with hearing a county-by-county perspective, the audience also heard from Stephen Acquario, the Executive Director of the New York State Association of Counties. Acquario says New York, unlike many states, continues to use local property taxes to fund state services, specifically, nine programs where counties have no say or regulation.

Acquario says they are focused on this topic for the rest of this year's legislative session. Property tax reform is not a new matter, but according to Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, a gathering like the one Thursday morning served a purpose for the business community on-hand.

Dutchess County Executive William Steinhaus, who will retire at the end of the year after 20 years as Executive, says the message from Hudson Valley leaders is no different than that in other parts of the state. He agrees that Thursday was a way to educate the public on the problems facing counties.

Orange County Executive Ed Diana echoed the sentiments of colleagues, adding that mandate relief, education funding, and pension reform are three keys for state lawmakers. He says without a solution, those three issues could bankrupt New York, or tax it into oblivion. Diana says there seems to be an understanding of what's on the plates of counties

John Clarkson is a Vice President with Pattern for Progress, and served as the Executive Director for the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency. He says business involvement is key to helping counties move forward, and adds that the organization is helping local government leaders, who are seeking change, to get the information they need.