County Legislature votes to amend chargeback law, taking on $1.6 million in chargebacks

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

New City – After an occasionally heated debate, a divided legislature voted on an 11th hour bill requiring the county to be charged back for $1.6 million in community college costs for the year of 2012, removing the obligation from the towns for that year.

The resolution, which passed by a vote of 11 to 5, was controversial from its presentation, when a motion to waive the rules and allow the new item to go to the floor was passed with some consternation.

Those voting against the resolution itself included Legislators Ed Day, Michael Grant, Joseph Meyers, and Alden Wolfe. According to Grant, one of the bill’s strongest opponents, the last minute presentation of the bill by Legislator Ilan Schoenberger was improper because it was not an emergency and had not been given adequate consideration before being brought to a vote.

Grant took even stronger issue with the bill itself, questioning the wisdom of passing a bill with no concrete funding mechanisms, going so far as to call it “defective” and chastising its presentation as “bad government.”

“I think this puts the county in a terrible position,” Grant said. “It is assuming a financial burden that [the county] doesn’t have the resources to manage.”

Legislator Joseph Meyers agreed with Grant, arguing the bill only contains funding suggestions and did not adequately address the potential $1.6 million expense associated with relieving the towns.

“This resolution is clearly and without a doubt defective,” Meyers commented.

In defense of the bill, Schoenberger explained potential funding sources had already been found and that in spite of a lack of a final funding decision, there were a number of options from which the legislature could choose, including various appropriations reserves and the contingency fund.

“The list that I’ve given you is just a possible source of funding,” Schoenberger explained.

Schoenberger also argued the bill was urgent enough to warrant the sudden presentation, considering the first draft of the county budget is expected to be completed by County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef within the next few days.

There has been a divergence of opinions between the towns and counties on chargebacks. The towns have argued their handling of the charge backs would create an undue financial burden and unfairly place them on the hook for what should be county costs, while many in county government feel they do have the resources to handle the expenses.

The matter led to questions in the legislature over the appropriateness of a legislator representing both the county and a separate, local office. Though he supported the resolution, Legislator Moroney went so far as to suggest he would draft a bill containing a “two hat rule” to prevent such conflicts of interest.

Legislator Nancy Low-Hogan also supported the resolution, but offered an amendment allowing a 50/50 split in the chargeback burden between the towns and county for 2012 as a compromise. Though she received some support from legislators who supported the resolution such as Aney Paul and Aron Wieder, the amendment ultimately failed.