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COUNTIES COLLABORATE ON CONFLICT DEFENDER SERVICES

By Colleen Pillus, Dutchess County and Mark Longtoe, Ulster County

In December, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein and Dutchess County   Executive Marc Molinaro jointly announced a shared services agreement  between the two counties to address the soaring State-mandated costs of  providing legal defense counsel to indigent clients. The county executives  have forged a cooperative agreement to garner a level of cost containment over a State mandated expense that has now reached a combined total of  nearly $3.9 million annually in Ulster and Dutchess counties, while maintaining high quality representation.

To date, when a Public Defender’s Office is disqualified from representing an eligible indigent client due to a legal conflict, a private attorney is  assigned. The attorney then bills the county according to rates established by New York State in a process referred to as “assigned counsel.”

The skyrocketing cost, coupled with decreased program aid from New York State, has placed a significant additional burden on counties to cover the cost of this mandated service. In 2011, this system of providing representation cost Ulster County taxpayers $1,345,653 while Dutchess  County taxpayers spent $2,540,000.

“Governments at every level must learn to work past political differences and municipal boundaries to focus on delivering results for the people. I am confident that the citizens of Ulster and Dutchess will benefit from this innovative collaboration,” said Ulster County Executive Hein.

County Executive Hein continued, “Not only does this pilot program  represent a $175,000 savings for Ulster County’s taxpayers, it represents a $300,000 total savings for our region’s taxpayers, all while those in need continue to receive high quality legal representation. This is truly a  win/win collaboration, and we both look forward to working with our respective legislatures to make it a reality.”

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said, “This agreement is the  first of its kind in New York State for county Public Defender’s Offices and  represents exactly the type of cooperative partnerships we need to embrace if we are to be successful in our efforts to deliver smaller, smarter government to our taxpayers. I am grateful to Public Defender Tom Angell for seeking out new and better ways to meet our residents’ needs, while reducing costs. We were very pleased to bring this plan to Ulster County and appreciate the support and cooperation of County Executive Hein to  make this partnership a reality.”

Ulster County Public Defender Andrew Kossover added, “I want to thank  both County Executive Hein and County Executive Molinaro for this  innovative, cooperative approach to a fiscal problem that is plaguing  counties throughout the State. I am excited to take part in this shared  service arrangement, and look forward to working with Dutchess County’s  Public Defender Thomas Angell.”

Dutchess County Public Defender Thomas Angell noted, “This new  arrangement will permit each of our Public Defender Offices to create cost efficiencies while at the same time increasing the quality of legal services  provided. I look forward to this new partnership with Ulster County Public Defender’s Office. Our clients will better served by having access to full time defenders as well as the investigators, social workers and outside resources that our respective Public Defender Offices can provide.”

The one year agreement unveiled today will be a pilot program in County Court, City of Kingston Court and Town of Ulster Court in Ulster County;  and County Court and City of Poughkeepsie Court in Dutchess County.

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NYSAC News Winter 2015

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Counties in the News, March 2, 2015

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Counties in the News, February 27, 2015

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Counties in the News, February 26, 2015

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Counties Support Fiscal Relief and Stability in State Budget

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Counties Support Fiscal Relief and Stability in State Budget

The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) and the New York State County Executives’ Association delivered testimony on the state budget proposal before the State Joint Legislative Fiscal Committees on Wednesday, February 25.

Read the full testimony.

According to the testimony, the 2015 state budget proposal recognizes that state requirements on counties have a direct impact on local property taxes. This recognition was represented by proposals to fully implement the local Medicaid cap, reforming the retroactive rate setting for youth placed in detention facilities, and the lack of outright cost shifts that had been prevalent in state budgets years ago.

“I applaud the efforts of Governor Cuomo to ease the burden on local taxpayers, and we urge the State Legislature to address the concerns that counties are raising today in our testimony,” said NYSAC President Anthony J. Picente, Jr.

Major issues of concern that counties identified for state lawmakers included:

  • Raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 – which hinges on the creation of a system of social service programs that will divert 16 and 17 year olds away from jails and prisons into social service programs and alternatives to incarceration (both of which are costly county responsibilities).
  • The circuit breaker income tax credit tied to property taxes – which requires localities to stay within the tax cap for their homeowners to earn a state income tax credit the following year. (The proposal will not lower the property tax burden, or the costs associated with state mandated programs and services.)
  • The continued disparity in safety net assistance – counties now pay 71 percent while the state only pays 29 percent. Historically, that cost has been split 50/50.
  • Home rule authority for local sales tax revenue – 55 counties must seek state legislative authority to continue their existing sales tax percentage every two years. This is a time and resource-intensive process that could be resolved more simply through an omnibus bill or with permanent authority for counties to levy a 4 percent sales tax (equal to the state’s sales tax percentage).

“As county executives, many of us have been doing what we can to implement much needed reforms, but it’s not enough for us to do it just on the local level – we need a partner,” said Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, President of the NYS County Executives Association. “The decisions made during the state budget process over the past several decades have resulted in new costs that have directly influenced the burden on counties and increased property taxes. That trend must come to an end.”

The testimony also addressed IDA reforms, community college funding, and other issues contained in the Executive State Budget proposal that impact counties.

“Addressing the linkage between state programs and local property taxes is the only way to reverse New York’s highest-in-the-nation property tax burden. Lowering county costs will lower property taxes. It is that simple, and that must be our collective goal,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario.

Counties look forward to working with state lawmakers and providing the local county perspective as state budget decisions are made over the next month.

The New York State Association of Counties is a bipartisan municipal association serving the counties of New York State including the City of New York. Organized in 1925, NYSAC’s mission is to represent, educate and advocate for Member Counties and the thousands of elected and appointed county officials who serve the public.

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Counties in the News, February 25, 2015

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Counties in the News, February 24, 2015

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Suffolk County Battles Powdered Caffeine Sales

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Counties in the News, February 20, 2015

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Counties in the News, February 19, 2015

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Counties in the News, February 18, 2015

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Erie County’s Focus on Economic Development Gets Results

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Counties in the News, February 17, 2015

NYSAC
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Schumer seeks federal help for Ithaca truck safety

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2014 a good year for county sales tax returns

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