Things ‘looking up’ in Fulton County: official

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead gave the 21st State of the County Address for Fulton County on Friday morning at the Holiday Inn.

Stead talked about the problems facing the county and positive things that are coming in the future for this region.

“Fulton County, perhaps, is in a little bit better position than some of the other communities and counties throughout New York state,” Stead said. “We certainly have issues and challenges that we are dealing with, but our county government has responded to some of these challenges.”

Stead said in 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other officials promised to cut state mandates on local governments to lower property taxes, but that relief hasn’t materialized.

He said property taxes are too high in this area and throughout upstate New York because of unfunded mandates.

Stead said the key cost issues facing the county are for Medicaid, pensions and help for children with special needs.

“[State officials’] actions or inaction have set the stage for an unsustainable situation for local governments and that is something that has to be addressed,” Stead said. “There are no lifelines coming from Albany. We are going to have to figure this out on our own.”

Stead said 49.7 percent of the tax levy for the county goes toward paying the rising cost of Medicaid, which totaled $13.7 million in the 2012 budget, while 17.5 percent goes toward paying pension costs that totaled $4.8 million in the 2012 budget.

Stead noted that 80 percent of the tax levy goes toward mandated program costs, while the other 20 percent covers the services provided by the county.

With an eye on the future, Stead said the county overrode the tax cap the last two years and passed a 2013 budget that totals $88.8 million with an average property tax rate of $11.73 per $1,000 of assessed property value – that is a 1.4 percent increase.

He said prior to the state’s tax-levy cap being put into place, the Fulton County Board of Supervisors passed a tax-rate increase of less than 2 percent for nine out of 12 years.

Stead also said the Board of Supervisors has undertaken the biggest restructuring of county government in its history. The total budget of $88.8 million is the lowest it has been in 15 years due to tough decisions that included cutting a third of the county workforce in the last two years.

“Our county supervisors didn’t just sit back and hope things got better, they reacted,” Stead said.

Stead noted the county has partnered with the Fulton?County Center for Regional Growth to develop a new business development marketing plan.

“The state is not going to help, so we are going to have to pull up our boot straps to get these things done,” Stead said.

He said many private investors have already begun or will start to invest millions of dollars in Fulton County over the next few years, which could create new jobs in the area, including the new C.G. Roxane water bottling plant, the new Walmart Supercenter and the Fage USA expansion.

“Things are looking up,” Stead said. “We have one of the most involved and innovative business communities and chambers of commerce in all of New York state.”

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