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Legislature head backs maintenance

Orleans County will increase its emphasis on improving its infrastructure and focus on growing its tax base, the chairman of the County Legislature said in his recent State of the County address.

Legislature Chairman David B. Callard said, "Highways have been well-maintained and bridge work completed as planned, but now, with reductions in state and federal aid, very carefully planned preventive maintenance will have to be undertaken to extend the life of our existing infrastructure."

Working around unfunded state mandates and reductions in state and federal aid was a theme of the chairman's annual address last week.

Callard said the cost of salaries in the county budget is being held to less than 1 percent growth. However, health insurance and state retirement costs are projected to rise 10 percent and 28 percent, respectively.

"The state continues to lower revenue aid to the counties, while it increases unfunded mandate costs," Callard said.

Medicaid continues to be one of the county's biggest expenses, he said, noting that the state spends more than $50 billion a year on Medicaid and that more than $7 billion of the cost is assumed by counties.

"If the state assumes responsibility for this spending, then local taxes will be markedly reduced and local services increased," Callard said.

"On a countywide basis, the best way to deal with the imposition of unfunded mandate costs will be to encourage the growth and development of businesses, to improve the housing market and to improve the delivery of services in general," he added.