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County to change tax bills, cost of federal, state programs to be highlighted

By Fritz Mayer
August 24, 2011

Sullivan County lawmakers have long complained that the majority of county spending is mandated by officials in Albany and Washington D.C., and local lawmakers have no control over it. Now, they have moved to change property tax bills so that they show how much of the money will go to state and federal programs, and how much will go for local programs and uses.

Not everyone thought the change was a good idea. Priscilla Bassett, president of the Senior Legislative Action Committee, testified at a public hearing at the government center on August 18, that the move would be “divisive” and make the county seem “mean spirited," because the state and federal programs that cost the most are ones, such as Medicaid, that help low-income or poor residents of the county.

She said because of the hurting economy, a growing number of county residents are becoming eligible for such programs, and while mandates are a real problem, county lawmakers should not try to deal with them by targeting people in need.

Starr Hesse, a former employee of Office for the Aging, agreed and said, “It is totally improper to try to balance this economic situation on the backs of the poor and the infirm in Sullivan County.”

Lawmaker Leni Binder said, “This delineation has nothing to do with any programs we control; it is simply a statement of the percentage of our budget that we have absolutely no control over.”

Lawmaker Ron Hiatt agreed with Binder and said, “I’ve been working all my life for social services and the people they help out. What this is all about, as far as I’m concerned, is to let the voters understand what’s going on. We have no choice about most of this budget, and I think the voters should know who’s telling them how their money will be spent.”

The legislators voted six to two in favor of the resolution with Kathy LaBuda and Frank Armstrong voting against it. The changes to the tax bills will be seen in the ones sent out for property taxes at the end of the year.