McCoy's $574M plan counts on LDC for home
Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia
Daniel McCoy, Albany County’s executive, on Tuesday presented the county legislature with his $574 million budget proposal for 2014, which he says will cost the average homeowner an additional $1.25 per month. McCoy is shown here addressing Hilltown seniors at the Foxenkill Grange in April on his second “listening tour.”
ALBANY COUNTY — Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy has proposed a 2014 budget with the lowest tax increase in half a decade, well under the 2 percent levy cap set by the state, but his plan depends on the legislature forming a local development corporation to take over the county’s nursing home by July.
The proposed $574 million budget calls for a 1.6-percent increase in property taxes, raising the annual tax bill on a $200,000 home by $15.
However, since the plan relies on spending $16.6 million on funding the nursing home for only half a year, any delay in handing it over could greatly increase rates.
Nursing home, a budget keystone
The nursing home has been controversial, and the county legislature has until mid-December to adopt a spending plan.
Speaking to The Enterprise Tuesday just after presenting his plan to the county legislature, McCoy, a Democrat, said funding the home cost the county just under $1 million a month and funding it for the rest of the year would increase property taxes by 8.5 percent.
The 2013 budget called for an 8.9 percent tax hike. McCoy’s predecessor, Michael Breslin, had proposed closing the 250-bed nursing home and was widely criticized. McCoy vowed he wouldn’t close the home.
Last year, McCoy pushed a plan to privatize the nursing home with Upstate Services Group, a limited liability corporation, but legislators resisted the idea and are now supporting their own initiative to create a local development corporation to operate the home instead.
Asked if he thought the goal of handing over the nursing home to a local development corporation could be met by the deadline, McCoy said, “I don’t have a crystal ball. You’ll have to ask the legislature that question.”
He added, “I think, LDCs weren’t created for what they’re trying to do.”
McCoy also said some legislators wanted to put their “hands around labor” but didn't want to pay for the costs. The nursing home employs more than 300 workers, paid by the county.
“There comes a point were you should put your money were your mouth is. If you believe in it so much then raise the bills to pay for it,” he said.
“People want services but they don’t want taxes,” said McCoy, “I don’t have a money tree down on Main Street to go pluck bills off of. I need partnerships.”
McCoy said he was willing to abandon his own plan and embrace the legislature’s to achieve such a partnership.
McCoy noted the legislature would miss an original deadline, which envisioned the creation of the development corporation by January 2014.
“Taxpayers need a break today. This plan gives (the legislature) nine months to come up with a proposal that’s better than mine and make it work. I’ll be happy to join them in getting it done. If it works, I’m not afraid to go up there and say, ‘Hey, yours is better.’”
A local development corporation to take over the home has not yet been created.
The Democratic legislative majority leader, Frank J. Commisso, of the 11th District, said yesterday that lawyers were still working out the legal framework of creating a development corporation to run the home.
“It’s still being looked at,” he told The Enterprise Wednesday. “There’s dialogue taking place every day with the county attorney and the attorney involved with running the home.”
“That being said, it’s pretty hard to get authorization from the state,” said Commisso.
He added that getting the legal details refined was an important step because receiving approval from the state for a development corporation could be a challenge, one that could potentially slow the process of transferring the home.
He also said the county could possibly continue to fund the home for all of 2014 without raising taxes, if it had to.
“There’s sufficient money for six months; there could be sufficient funds for longer by way of not putting into the reserves,” he said. Commisso applauded McCoy’s efforts to keep taxes low and below a 2-percent levy increase, saying he and the legislature were determined to keep it that way.
The legislature opposed privatizing the facility because it would mean workers at the home would no longer be county employees, and that residents might suffer a decline in care, Commisso said.
“Executive McCoy’s plan would have turned over the employees and everything else to USG,” he said. “Our main concentration is those jobs at the nursing home but even greater than that are the residents at the Albany County Nursing Home.”
Commisso said under McCoy’s proposal the facility, its employees or residents, could be transferred or relocated out of the area.
“We have families that would lose loved ones because they are unable or can’t afford to travel. Those things are very much a concern from my side of the aisle,” said Commisso.
A timetable of unknowns
The legislature’s Republican minority leader, Christine M. Benedict, of the 27th District, said she preferred the plan of privatization first put forth by McCoy because a development corporation would still be the ultimate responsibility of taxpayers.
“I don’t think we have a choice about going down this road but a LDC is not the road I would go down,” she said. “The other proposal, with United Services Group, would’ve meant the management — and really the take-over of the day to day operations and everything. An LDC is like the airport authority, to put up a comparison. It’s another layer of government.”
Benedict said the common goal of both parties in the legislature and the executive was to ensure that residents were taken care of and the financial burden removed from taxpayers. For that reason, she believes it would be possible to meet the July deadline.
“I think, for some reason, the legislature was looking at a LDC to maintain county workers. There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to the LDC,” she said.
Republican Legislator Deborah Busch, of the 39th District, said she was concerned but hoping for the best, with McCoy’s budget proposal.
“I can say it’s a sustainable budget and we’re under the property tax cap. I find that to be commendable,” she said. “It’s conditional upon the nursing home being funded until June next year. If the legislature does not work diligently on forming the LDC and transferring the costs to another provider, we’re looking at a 10 percent increase in taxes.”
Another point of concern for Busch is the legislature creating an administrative position to oversee the home, with a salary of about $250,000.
“We’re running it at a $10 million deficit and the administrative LDC that’ll run the nursing home is promising to reduce its costs to negligible, but (the legislature’s plan) requires pay for one employee for $250,000,” she said.
If the legislature creates the LDC in 2014 but fails to hand over the home next year, Busch said the county would have to spend even more money, saying, “There’s a cost to setting up the LDC and there’s the cost of keeping the nursing home afloat, so, instead of $10 million, it’ll be $11 million in debts.”
“I say with reservation, I’m hoping for the best,” said Busch, who works as a full-time registered nurse at Albany Medical Center.
Other parts of the budget
Some key elements outline in McCoy’s budget proposal include:
— The proposed budget includes the elimination of 42 vacant positions, half of them from the Albany County jail and half from the Albany County Nursing home;
— A $1,000 raise for legislators and a $7,000 raise for the county executive, which may not be passed since both Commisso and Benedict said they did not support the proposals. Busch said she would vote against any budget that authorized a raise for elected officials. Currently, legislators are paid $21,752 annually and the budget proposes increasing it to $23,084. The budget also calls for a raise for the county executive. Currently, McCoy is paid an annual salary of $118,317 and his budget proposes raising it to $125,559.
— The county’s entrance into a partnership with Schenectady County Community College that would allow the school to hold classes at the Albany County office building. The proposal intends to reduce the costs of subsidizing students who attend Hudson Valley Community College, which is in Rensselaer County.
McCoy said the county pays more than it should to Hudson Valley but was required to do so by state mandate.
McCoy said the county would still have to pay for residents attending Hudson Valley but said, “Every student who attends SCCC will save us money;”
— Unprecedented, seven-year contract agreements between the county and employee unions, which offer a 2-percent annual raise to most workers;
—The consolidation of legal functions, reducing the expenses of paying for outside legal costs. The plan consolidates the county’s mental-health clinic to one central location and includes saving from the combining of Albany County Sheriff’s Office’s substations to a central public safety building in Clarksville, at the former elementary school; and
— The setting aside of $150,000 into the county's general fund balance. If approved, it would increase the fund balance to $27,500,906.