By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
FONDA -- State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, visited the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Tuesday to introduce herself and field its concerns, which were concentrated on calls for pension reform and mandate relief.
"I'd like to come on an annual basis to hear about the issues you're facing," she told the board.
Chairman and Root Supervisor John Thayer said the county needs pension reform to alleviate skyrocketing employer contributions to the state's Employee Retirement System. Thayer said the county's contribution has doubled in the past five years.
"The state pension program has bankrupted us," Thayer said. "We really do need some help on this. I don't begrudge anyone a pension, but it's time something is done."
Tkaczyk asked Thayer if he'd read up on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's "pension smoothing proposal," which would allow local governments and schools to temporarily reduce their contribution to the system.
"I have -- it doesn't relieve enough of the pain," Thayer said. "This is something of a monster that's been growing for many years. We really need some help with that."
Tkaczyk said she doesn't believe any of the school districts or governments in her five-county district -- which spans from St. Johnsville to Kingston -- have signed on to the program.
The Fonda-Fultonville Central School District hasn't; district treasurer Carey Shultz's recent recommendation to the Board of Education was to stay away from it.
"You get locked in for seven years at an escalating rate," Shultz told the Board of Education during an April 15 meeting. "If the stock market goes well -- like it has been -- it comes back to bite you because you're locked in paying a high rate. I don't think it's a good idea for any district because you get a savings for two years, then you have to pay it all back with interest for five years."
Glen Supervisor Lawrence Coddington asked Tkaczyk about the status of mandate relief reforms for local governments and schools.
Tkaczyk, a former school board member, said she's working to compile a list of items of such relief that she wants to work into a bill.
"I don't know if anyone will support it," she said, "but the fact that I'm doing it gets other people to do something. I don't care who does it as long as something gets done."
"I know you're tired of waiting for mandate relief," Tkaczyk added. "It's my commitment to you to address your concerns."
Tkaczyk additionally told the board she's opening a satellite office at the Riverfront Center in Amsterdam, a space she'll share with Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara of Rotterdam.
"I hope to be there once a week," she said, adding people can call her office in Albany at 455-2470 with any concerns in the meantime. It's anticipated the Amsterdam office will open by the end of the month.
Tkaczyk also presented some items specific to Montgomery County under the adopted state budget. Though Aid to Municipalities funds stayed flat compared to the state's 2012-13 budget, Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program funding increased by more than $400,000, an increase of nearly 22 percent.
All 10 towns, nine villages and the city of Amsterdam also saw increases in the 20-percent range.
The funds support the construction and repair of highways, bridges, highway-railroad crossings, and other facilities that aren't on the state highway system.
In other board news:
* Court Appointed Special Advocates Director Linda Burns accepted a proclamation in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month. Burns said she's received 10 new cases in recent weeks.
"I thought to myself: 'I don't think I can do this anymore.' But then we recently coordinated a sibling visit, and seeing the love they had, I said: 'I guess I can do this a few more years,'" said Burns.
Burns noted the county office building, which houses the Department of Social Services, is currently decorated with pinwheels.
"It's a symbol of prevention because it represents the joy every child should have," she said.
* A motion to suspend the rules of procedures failed, delaying a resolution to hire attorneys to represent the county in a lawsuit relating to its health insurance trust.
In order to introduce a resolution off the floor, it requires a two-thirds majority to suspend the rules of procedures.
Given the absences of some supervisors, that motion failed upon the nays of Amsterdam town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza, 3rd Ward Supervisor Ronald J. Barone Sr., and 4th Ward Supervisor Barbara Wheeler.
Attorney Douglas Landon said the county was recently granted an extension to answer the lawsuit by May 31, so he suggested adding it to the agenda of a May 14 special meeting. It was already scheduled to host a public hearing on a Community Block Development Grant that's being pursued by the county's Economic Development and Planning Department.
Benefits Marketing of Amsterdam this month sued the county, the city of Amsterdam, its trust, and trust members, alleging breach of contract. The company, and its proprietor Pasquale Baia, are seeking at least $1 million in damages.
Concerns were expressed about the county being able to make the deadlines without designated counsel, considering the city of Amsterdam has petitioned Supreme Court in a request to move the suit from Albany County, where it was filed, to Montgomery County.
"Everyone named in the suit is located in Montgomery County, so it makes it the most logical venue, from the city's point of view," said Amsterdam Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis late Tuesday.
* Palatine Supervisor Brian Sweet and Minden Supervisor Thomas Quackenbush withdrew their sponsorship of a resolution that proposed a retroactive policy, which prompted accusations of protecting the interests of a single county employee.
No one else picked up the sponsorship, killing the resolution. There was no other discussion about the matter.