KINGSTON – Republicans in the Ulster County Legislature during Tuesday's May 8 caucus handily dismissed a resolution sponsored by a Democratic counterpart that would change the laws of the legislature to enable lawmakers to remove the lawmaking body's chair, if the need ever arises.
Hector Rodriguez, D-New Paltz, sponsored the resolution because he said the legislature presently lacks any mechanism for removal. Most Democrats in their caucus support the measure. While Rich Parete, D-Marbletown, and John Parete, D-Olive, staunchly oppose Rodriguez's legislation, Rob Parete, D-Stone Ridge, said he'd be introducing to the Laws and Rules committee accompanying legislation that would empower the Legislature to remove the Majority and Minority leader, as well. Legislative counsel Langdon Chapman told Republicans that his understanding is that county law provides that the term of the chair of the legislature is for one year.
"When the state law says the term of the chair is one year, your rules are not the appropriate mechanism to try to override the state law," he said. "In my view, that's an issue — you can't be passing resolutions that contradict state laws."
Kevin Roberts, who chairs the Laws and Rules Committee, said, "The only way a chair should be removed is if he or she commits an illegal act."
Chair of the Legislature, Terry Bernardo, R-Accord, who was present at the Republican caucus, asked Roberts to "kill" the legislation at Monday's upcoming Laws and Rules Committee meeting and he assured her it would be "squashed." Chapman said that if the resolution is defeated in committee, it won't make it to the floor of the Legislature.
Several legislators have been grumbling publicly about some of Bernardo's recent actions, and Republicans feared that some Dems might attempt to use the legislation to oust the new chairwoman. In addition, the county legislature held public hearings on Tuesday night regarding several local laws proposed by Ulster County Executive Michael Hein that seek to increase tax exemptions for targeted groups of property owners, including senior citizens and the disabled, and includes the creation of a First Time Homebuyers exemption, which would be given to first time home buyers who purchase a newly constructed home or an existing home that is renovated within 90 days of purchase.
In other county business, the Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved a measure, called the "Mandate and Taxation Information Act," that provides county taxpayers a detailed insert, included in their tax bill, that will outline the cost of major programs funded by the county and summarize state mandates, like Safety Net and election costs.
The accord evidenced in the Ways and Means Committee contrasts sharply against Monday's meeting of the Inter-municipal Collaboration Council, where leaders expressed concern over the county's proposal to retake some of the sales tax revenues it shares with the towns and city of Kingston to pay for the welfare program.
Safety Net is a state-mandated public assistance program that provides benefits to single, childless adults who are ineligible for or have exceeded the 60-month limit for federal assistance. Of the 62 counties in New York State, only Ulster charges its municipalities for the cost of the services.
The program's costs used to be split, 50-50, between the state and the county, but, last year the state altered the cost-sharing ratio for the program to a 29 percent state share and a 71 percent local share.
Last week, Ulster County Executive Michael Hein announced that he wants the county to take over the local cost of Safety Net and said if the county legislature can't develop a "fiscally responsible" plan to do so, he would include a plan in his 2013 budget.
Currently, the local share of the welfare program is paid by the municipalities based on the number of Safety Net recipients living in each. As such, an unfair burden of the cost of the county's Safety Net program is carried by the municipalities where services and affordable housing are available, like the city of Kingston and village of Ellenville.
Ulster County Deputy Executive Kenneth Crannell has said he's ready to have a conversation about changing the structure of Safety Net funding, but said that the state-imposed two percent property tax cap makes it impossible for the county to add the cost of a county takeover to the property tax levy and that it will take "shared sacrifice" from the municipalities and the county to cover the expenses for the program.