The 2019 NYSAC Conference got underway today with significant representation from Chemung County. The goal of the conference seems to be twofold: the education of community leaders along with advocacy by NYSAC on issues with particular consequences to local government.
The conference allows participants to choose among a number of training sessions. The newbies – including me – seemed to gravitate toward skills-based courses in order to learn more about the nuts-and-bolts of how county government functions.
Meet the Mandates
The first session I attended dealt with state mandates, or the directives New York State imposes on local governments.
According to the presentation, county governments in New York were required to pay more than 5 billion dollars in 2017 to support state mandated programs and initiatives. The graph below sets forth the nine most expensive outlays for mandates;
The presenters cautioned county lawmakers that at least three new laws when (or if) enacted could add significant additional mandated costs. These laws include new election rules that allow for early voting, requiring local oversight by the Board of Elections along with legalized marijuana that, if passed, could include a good deal of requirement for local regulatory services.
Moreover, if Gov. Cuomo’s cut to the Aid and Incentives to Municipalities Funding (AIM) is passed, towns and villages in New York will have less revenue, forcing them to look to other sources of revenue – such as counties – for relief. Even though this is not a mandate, it could have the same net effect, i.e. forcing counties to spend money in order to keep local government running.
At the same time, the presenters suggested several changes to New York’s criminal justice system could result in cost savings to local government if they cause the incarceration rate to go down. These measures include Raise the Age legislation that increases the age of liability for most crimes to 18 years old, Bail Reform that strengthens alternatives to jail for people who can’t make bail for lesser criminal offenses, and legalization of marijuana that, if passed, would likely reduce the jail population, especially in urban areas.
Regardless of this speculation, it is clear county leaders and residents in New York need to pay close attention to the impact state bills have on local communities.
Understanding Municipal Credit Scores
The second session I attended was really great for people new to local government. It dealt with the specific ways Moody’s goes about assessing municipal fiscal health, and described how counties stack up against each other.
This table shows the ratings used by Moody’s;
Chemung County currently has a Moody’s credit rating of A1 (shown here), placing it toward the median for all counties in New York. I don’t have a copy of the comparative graph shown during the presentation, but will do my best to get one.
My contrast, the City of Elmira’s rating was Ba3 as of last February (shown here), underscoring the need to find ways to improve Elmira’s fiscal health.
On a complete side note, it looks like I unfortunately need to cut my time at this conference short. A sick kid and sick husband at home coupled with what is now a sick me means I cannot be as productive here as I had hoped – not to mention the dubious ethics of spreading my germs to the majority of New York county leaders during tomorrow’s sessions.
I am really bummed as I found this conference extremely educational and interesting, but I have no doubt the other local participants will bring their new knowledge back to share with the rest of us.