HUDSON VALLEY REPORTER: STATE, LOCAL OFFICIALS DISCUSS UNFUNDED MANDATE RELIEF IN MAHOPAC

 

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    MAHOPAC, N.Y. — More than 50 state and local officials gathered at the Mahopac High School gymnasium Saturday morning for a round-table discussion, headed by state Sen. Greg Ball, regarding the potential for emergency unfunded mandate relief from New York state.

    Sitting alongside Ball to assist in leading the discussion were state Sen. John Flanagan, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell, Mahopac Schools Superintendent Thomas Manko and Putnam County Sheriff Don Smith.

    Unfunded mandates that are handed down by the state drive up costs to schools, municipalities and counties, ultimately driving up local taxes, Ball said.

    “Unfunded mandates are crushing our local governments and school districts all across the state,” he said. “We need unfunded mandate relief and we need it now. I am happy, very happy, to see the large turnout we had today. It is important that we work together to dig into these burdensome testing requirements, local reporting nightmares and administrative bureaucracy. There are a myriad of opportunities for Albany to deliver relief.”

    Ball (R-Patterson) mentioned the importance of having all the officials on the same page and he said he hopes Gov. Andrew Cuomo holds true to his word by forcing the Assembly to vote on a comprehensive mandate relief package for schools and municipalities.

    “Eight years ago if you brought up ‘unfunded mandate,’ people really didn’t know what you were talking about,” Ball said. “Now from a local taxpayer to the county executive all the way to the governor, unfunded mandate relief, which is really not a sexy issue, has found its way to the very top of the list, and everybody is speaking with one voice. Hopefully the governor is hearing that one voice and he will force the Assembly to have an up or down vote.”

    Flanagan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, echoed Ball’s sentiment about forcing the Assembly to act. He said the Democratic-controlled Assembly has “thwarted everything we’ve tried to do regarding mandate relief.”

    “They don’t really advance anything, it’s that simple,” said Flanagan (R-Suffolk County). “The senators put out specific bills that are tied to examples, and I have introduced and moved bills that came out of the state Education Department, and I haven’t seen anything coming out of the Assembly. Getting a whole group like this, their collective voices will make a huge difference. Sen. Ball is obviously not shy, so he will have the backing of a small army to help him.”

    Manko, the Mahopac schools superintendent, said he was pleased to co-host the event, which he hopes will prompt parents of students and Putnam County residents to reach out to their local officials about unfunded state mandates.

    “It’s great to get more visibility and publicity to people to activate and motivate them to reach out to their elected officials and say, ‘Mandates make sense in many instances, but the mechanism to pay for them has not been followed through on,’ ” Manko said. “Taxpayers have to pick up the cost, and that money could be used for other purposes to improve and enhance the education programs, so the more we get that message out the better.”

    Manko said having this much support from elected officials and county residents early in the legislative process is a huge advantage.

    “It’s awe-inspiring to get so many elected officials together in Mahopac High School so early in the legislative cycle,” Manko said. “Now we have momentum as we build our school budgets going forward and the intermunicipal cooperation between and among the town, the county, the sheriff, the school districts, it just speaks volumes. People are united on this issue.” (ARTICLE)