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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 14, 2010

Predicts 15 % tax hike
Breslin’s budget makes deep cuts

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALBANY COUNTY — Cuts were sweeping and deep in the $550 million Albany County budget proposed last Friday by County Executive Michael Breslin.

Among the more than 500 jobs, a fifth of the county workforce, slated to be eliminated by the end off next year were three from the Crime Victims and Sexual Violence Center.

“It’s a death sentence for the center,” said Bryan Clenahan, a Democratic county legislator who represents Westmere. He is a long-time supporter of the crime victims’ center, which has its roots in a rape crisis center founded in the mid-1970s.

Clenahan said he was upset by the proposed change in the mission of the center.

Breslin told legislators on Friday that, while the center would continue to provide therapy and victim assistance services, therapy services will focus on assisting individuals experiencing a crisis or in need of short-term counseling up to three months or 12 visits. Victims in need of long-term, ongoing services are to be referred to other providers.

The center had offered free services to anyone who needed them regardless of when the person had been victimized. (For the full story on the center’s services, go online to www.altamontenterprise.com and look under regional archives for Oct. 7, 2010.)

Breslin’s budget cuts the post of deputy director, one therapist, and one administrative aid.

“These cuts are dismantling the program,” said Clenahan this week. A 35-percent cut is out of line….cutting [therapy] sessions to three months makes the possibility of making substantial progress unlikely.”

Funding for the center has increased steadily over the last dozen years, from about $590,000 in 1998 to just under a million dollars this year — about half of it from the county and the other half from state and federal grants.

Clenahan also said those grants could be jeopardized with the proposed cuts.

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” he said of the center and its staff. “They do extraordinarily well and extraordinarily cheaply.”

Karen Ziegler, who has directed the center since 2006 did not return a call for comment, but Mary Duryea, communications director at the county executive’s office, responded, saying, “The focus will be on the initial period after a crime occurs or after a trigger event.”

She went on, “The majority of clients need immediate therapy services.” Duryea also stressed that the center, under the proposed budget, would still do prevention work and would still provide court advocates for victims.

While several people spoke out at the county legislature’s meeting Tuesday on the center’s cuts, Duryea said, there are many issues that people are upset over.

In his message to the legislature on Friday, Breslin said the 2011 budget was the most challenging that he had faced. “I have made hard choices, including painful cuts to county services and the workforce,” he said in his statement, “as well as a tax increase, in order to deliver a balanced budget.”

The proposed property tax increase is 14.9 percent, despite spending reductions of over $24 million — most notably by selling the county’s nursing home — and using about $15 million from reserves.

Breslin said that the $40 million decrease in revenues was largely due to a $7.1 million decline in sales tax revenue, an $8.3 million loss in federal aid to the nursing home, another $7.4 million in other federal aid, a loss of $5.2 million when stimulus money runs out, a decline of $1.9 million in state aid, and a reduction of $1.5 million in Medicaid reimbursement.

At the same time, he said, the recession has increased the need for services to the poor. Since November of 2008, caseloads for Medicaid are up 12 percent, for temporary assistance are up 6 percent, and for food stamps are up 35 percent.

On Friday, Breslin also chided county legislators for not implementing the budget he proposed last year. “If we had implemented my proposed budget in 2010,” he said in his statement, “we would instead be facing a 4- to 5-percent tax increase. Unfortunately, the budget adopted by the county legislature simply postponed difficult decisions.”

Asked if Breslin was willing to be flexible with his proposal, for instance reinstating a new deputy director at a reduced salary for the crime victims’ center as Clenahan proposed, Duryea said, “He’s proposed a budget that he feels is equitable and makes necessary cuts to meet a $40 million loss in revenues.”

She concluded, “The legislature will be holding hearings and meeting with department heads. But he feels this makes the hard choices that needed to be made.”

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