Senator updates county on state budget, mandates


COOPERSTOWN — State Sen. James Seward visited the Otsego County Board of Representatives on Wednesday, Sept. 4, making a special presentation at the board’s monthly meeting at 197 Main St., about how the state budget will affect the county in the next year.

Seward, R-Milford, said he did not vote for the budget, in part because of unfunded mandates in state laws, which require additional funding on the county level.

One problem he said he felt he needed to give warning about is a change in the Aid and Incentives for Municipalities program. Most of the municipalities in Otsego County will no longer get their aid from state funds. The funds will instead come from Otsego County’s share of sales tax revenues. The cost to the county will be $331,320, Seward said. State laws to increase tax collections on internet sales are supposed to cover some or all of that cost, but Seward said those collections are still theoretical.

Changes in state voting laws, including a nine-day early voting period, e-poll books to mark early voters as having voted and other equipment mandates, will increase costs for the county, too, he said. And again, he said, the costs are not 100% covered, yet.

A flat budget for the state highway improvement program known as CHIP funding is also a concern, Seward said. At one point, emergency winter supply reimbursements were also being held up, but a late agreement has made those debts whole, he said.

“Obviously, next year in the state budget, we have a lot of work to do, it seems to me,” he said.

Seward also sought feedback from the representatives about state reimbursements for costs associated with the new Raise the Age law, which keeps most people under age 18 from being tried as adults.

Seward also took questions from the representatives, discussing broadband internet access for rural areas, natural gas use and several other issues. He said he wanted the representatives to know he reads their resolutions, and takes their statements into consideration when representing them.

“Thank you for reading those resolutions,” said Vice Chair Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta. “It is nice to know they are not just words in the wind.”

Seward then jokingly asked if the board could cut down on using the word “whereas” in the resolutions.

Shane Digan, of the Otsego County Planning Department, also made a presentation, giving the board members an overview of the state plastic bag ban, and the county’s opt-in option on charging five cents per paper bag.

Under the law, which goes into effect in March 2020, counties and cities can opt-in on the paper-bag charge, with the money going to state and local efforts to reduce trash production, and buy and distribute reusable cloth bags. Local governments would get 40% of the money collected, with that money going to the reusable bags. Giving them to low-income families would be a priority, according to the law.

Digan said the plastic bag ban does not include restaurants, meat and produce department packaging, or the purchase of trash or sandwich bags. He also said SNAP recipients would not have to pay for the paper bags.

Digan said the law will be effective in reducing the use of plastic in New York and the charge, if enacted, will reduce the use of paper bags. He said because paper is heavier than plastic and making paper bags takes more energy, too, paper bags are not a good replacement for plastic bags.

Several county officials said they thought there were limits on how many reusable bags they could distribute, and they wished the money could be used for other, similar uses, such as to subsidize the high cost of recycling.

Digan said he has spoken to the city of Oneonta in committee, but has yet to address the Common Council. He said he thought the initial reaction to a bag change in Oneonta was positive. He stressed there is only one charge, and city residents will not have to pay 10 cents, if both city and county officials pass plans. He also stressed there were relatively few businesses in Oneonta that would be affected by a paper-bag charge, since most shopping options are on Southside, which is outside city limits in the town of Oneonta.

In other parts of the county, reaction to the charge was mixed, he said.

About half of New York’s counties have already decided to take no action on opting in, he said, while New York City has opted in, and several other counties with previous single-use bag laws will have to adjust to work with the new state law.

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