Won’t Cut It
Albany County budget would axe one in five positions, hike
taxes 14.9 percent and unload nursing home
Share the pain. That’s about the best Albany County Executive
Michael Breslin could say about the 2011 preliminary budget
he unveiled last week. The $549.5 million budget can be viewed
online at albanycounty.com. The Legislature has until Dec.
10 to go over it and make changes.
If the budget passes as is, county taxes would go up 14.9
percent. That means a taxpayer with a property valued at $150,000
would pay $75 to $125 more next year than this year, depending
on the municipality where they live.
And county employees could be ringing in the new year with
pink slips if too few of them accept early retirement packages
by Dec. 31. One out of five jobs in the county would be eliminated
either through early retirement or layoffs. A total of 511
jobs are on the chopping block countywide.
The lion’s share are at the Albany County Nursing Home, which
would be aggressively marketed, and hopefully, sold by the
close of next year, Breslin said. “For years, I have been
an advocate of getting long-term care out into the community,”
he said. “There are others who can do it much less expensively.”
The 500-bed facility is only half full. Legislators blocked
Breslin from closing the existing home last year. This year,
Breslin wrote in his budget announcement, “The taxpayers of
Albany County can only take so much. We must take action and
be out of the nursing home business by the end of 2011.”
So far, early retirement offers have been extended to 229
county employees. Workers also will be asked to start picking
up 10 percent of their health insurance premiums, if the budget
is a painful budget and I have crafted a proposal that shares
the pain as equitably as possible—no county agency has gone
untouched,” said Breslin.
There wasn’t an open seat left in the Albany County Legislative
chambers on Tuesday. Nearly 30 people spoke in protest of
the proposed budget cuts. Some choked up. Most objected to
Breslin’s plans for the nursing home and the Crime Victim
and Sexual Violence Center. Nursing home supporters said private
facilities will refuse to take the hardest cases. Many people
cannot afford at-home, round-the-clock nursing care, they
An 85-year-old resident of the county facility said her husband,
who has severe Alzheimer’s, lives there too. “I could not
possibly take care of him at home,” she said. “He could break
my arm or kill me very easily. Please reconsider. . . . For
some of us, this will be the second and third time we had
to face moving to a new nursing home, not by our own choice.”
The nursing home isn’t the only facility Breslin wants gone.
His preliminary budget also proposes shutting down the county’s
substance abuse program. Breslin said there are plenty of
other local programs—mostly nonprofits—doing the same work.
Albany County is rich with substance abuse programs, they
all require that you have insurance,” argued 25-year county
mental health worker Kathryn Marchino. “No substance abuse
program takes Medicare.”
During a break, Legislator Bryan Clenahan responded to the
early retirement could be more widely applied,” he said. “Last
year, we were given a budget proposal with about 120 layoffs,
the closing of the nursing home, and a four percent tax hike.
We went with the four percent and kept the nursing home open.
hoping to maintain the nursing home, I’m hoping to maintain
the Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center and I hope to
avoid layoffs. It’s going be tough, but I think if we dig
in and leave no stone unturned, we can find a lot of potential
The big picture is grim, Shawn Morse, Chairman of the Legislature’s
Audit and Finance Committee, said in a recent interview. “House
sales are down, sales tax revenues are down, people are not
spending,” he said. “You have no idea the pickle that we’re
Breslin hacked more than $24 million out of the budget and
drew $15 million from reserves to balance out a revenue loss
of almost $39.8 million. The county expects a $7.1 million
drop in sales tax revenue and $15.7 million less in federal
aid. A $1.9 million decline in state aid also is expected.
To make matters worse, the expiration of the federal economic
stimulus package also effectively creates a $5.2 million shortfall.
And Medicaid will give the county $1.5 million less in reimbursement
for mental health services.
Times are tough. Revenue is down, but need is up, so there
is more demand on the County Department of Social Services.
Since November of 2008, the county has seen a 12 percent increase
in Medicaid cases, a 35 percent increase in food stamp use
and a 6 percent rise in people who need temporary assistance.
If all of that isn’t enough to depress you, Breslin anticipates
a budget gap of $18 to $23 million in 2012 for many of the
Ironically, when asked about the biggest problems facing Albany
County, Breslin answered, “Ultimately, the first one is jobs.
When you look at the people we serve, the single most common
thread is the lack of income, the lack of a job.”
and educators discuss how to prevent the harassment of LGBT
of legal outcomes, our hope is that our family’s personal
tragedy will serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human
dignity.” This statement was released by the parents of Tyler
Clementi, the 19-year-old Rutgers student who was just one
of five students to recently commit suicide as a result of
harsh anti-gay sentiments brought on by peers. In the midst
of recent coverage surrounding these suicides, Sen. Kirsten
Gillibrand’s campaign assembled a panel of teachers, guidance
counselors and LGBT advocates to speak in front of an audience
of concerned students, parents and the public at large. The
meeting took place in the Gannett auditorium at Skidmore College
last Thursday, where the panel discussed the goals to get
an anti- discrimination bill in motion.
In charge of the assembly was Amy Pollard, the Regional Representative
of the Upper Hudson Valley for the Gillibrand campaign. She
insisted that the most pressing concern of the legislation
is to amend Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to
include sexual orientation and gender identity. The Student
Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA) would also work to cut off federal
funding from schools that fail to report bullying or fail
to meet the standards that have been put in place by the Department
of Education’s Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA). Everyone
on the panel, as well as all present members of the audience,
agreed that deaths similar to Tyler Clementi’s could be avoided
in the future if swift action is taken by school districts.
They say pushing for anti-discrimination legislation is a
timely step in the right direction but the process is long.
Last month, Governor Paterson signed the Dignity for All Students
Act (DASA) which means that New York has now joined the other
nine states across America in enacting legislation that will
provide protection from bullying based on students’ perceived
sexual orientation. DASA, however, does not go into effect
until 2012, and bullying-related deaths in schools has been
steadily increasing over the past few years.
percent of kids polled admitted to engaging in cyber bullying,”
remarked Estelle Kline, a senior at Shaker High School and
former leader of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club.
“That’s a big number.”
With the accessibility of social networking sites, the prevalence
and severity of threats made has become even more inescapable;
students sometimes turn to drastic measures.
Discussion at the forum focused on legislative action being
key if strides are going to be made against bullying. However,
attendants also agreed that educating teachers and students
on ways to stand up for and defend LGBT kids who are being
bullied is crucial as well. Wayne Manchester, a math teacher
and faculty member involved in South Glens Falls High School’s
Gay-Straight Alliance turned his concerns over to the audience.
need to set the tone. Kids must hear that the verbal abuse
Many teachers find that because there are no specific or enumerated
guidelines set in place yet for such situations, they do not
know how exactly to diffuse an altercation between students
or what lines they might accidentally cross in doing so.
The memories of the students who have lost their lives as
a result of such homophobic bullying will stand as a reminder
as legislators and educators try to prevent further tragedy.
loose ends this week-