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December 3, 2009

 

Youth bureaus consider merger

Discussion begins of consolidation between city, county programs

PoolBob Ellis/staff photographer
Bryant Holl, 13, shoots pool Wednesday afternoon at the Cortland Youth Center on Port Watson Street.

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

County and city youth bureau representatives are willing to consider consolidating the two agencies, but say it would be a complicated and lengthy process.
That was the message to Cortland County legislators at Wednesday’s Human Services Committee meeting, after the consolidation idea arose at last week’s Legislature budget meeting.
The county Youth Bureau is budgeted to cost the county $123,546 in 2010.
But legislators and Youth Bureau officials agreed the consolidation could not happen in time to alter the proposed $120 million 2010 county budget, which must be adopted by Dec. 20.
Committee Chairman Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) said the idea of merging the youth bureaus should be explored further.
“If in exploring it, it made sense, then sure I would do it but I want to make sure that the programs being funded would be OK and it would be cost-effective,” Price said.
County Youth Bureau Director Emanuel Lann said if the bureaus consolidate, the many administrative services the county provides would have to be taken over by the city. The county allocates state funding to municipalities for Youth Bureau programs and services.
“If we merged, someone would still have to do the county work ... administering the funding, reporting to the county board and the administrator,” Lann said.
Lann also questioned what would happen to the two youth boards, which oversee the county and city youth bureaus. The county youth board makes all the funding allocation decisions, said Lann.
“We couldn’t do it immediately. But maybe in the future,” Lann said of a consolidation.
City Recreation and Parks Director John McNerney agrees the idea would be a long-term plan, saying the feasibility of the idea must be studied and the state office of Children and Family Services would have to approve any merger.
“Whenever there is a youth bureau merged there has to be a plan that the state has to review. It is a long process,” McNerney said, calling the discussions preliminary.
McNerney said there are 107 youth bureaus in the state and he has never heard of a city bureau taking over a county bureau.
McNerney is also concerned the city Youth Bureau could lose approximately $99,000 in state aid if the county bureau took over the city bureau.
McNerney is not certain if this would happen, and said city Alderman Brian Tobin and county Legislator Tom Hartnett (D-4th Ward) are exploring whether these funds could be lost. McNerney said he would also like city Director of Administration and Finance Bryan Gazda to research the consolidation plans with County Administrator Scott Schrader.
Gazda could not be reached for comment.
Schrader said he has been trying to arrange a meeting with Gazda for the past few days but has not yet heard back from him. Schrader said he does not think state funds would be at risk if the city bureau took over the county bureau.
But Schrader said he is concerned the city might not be able to provide services beyond its borders, saying he would have to review the city Youth Bureau charter. A referendum would be required to change the wording of this charter, he said.
“If something is viable then maybe (it could happen) at the end of next year,” Schrader said of a consolidation.
The proposal for the city Youth Bureau to take on some responsibilities of the county bureau came out of discussions Tobin and Hartnett have been having over the past weeks.
Lann said it would not make sense for the county bureau to take over the city bureau since the city runs several recreational programs successfully and he does not have the staff to do that at the county level. Lann proposed no alternative to the proposal that is being discussed.
McNerney said if consolidating the bureaus would provide a cost savings to the county and city, the idea should be explored.
But McNerney is concerned that the bureaus have different missions, with the county bureau serving as a regulatory agency that oversees the distribution of funding to townships and municipalities, while the city oversees city parks, facilities and recreation services.
“We are the oldest youth bureau in New York state ... and I would hate to see us merge and cut services to kids,” McNerney said, noting the bureau was established in 1946.
Tobin agreed with Schrader, that if the city youth bureau takes on the county bureau, he did not think the state aid would be at risk.
Tobin said he thinks the county could stand to save approximately $42,980 yearly in administrative and secretarial costs from a consolidation. According to Tobin, the city could take over the county’s administrative duties in exchange for Lann taking over the city’s assistant director position.
City Youth Bureau assistant director Cecile Scott said she plans to retire at the end of the year but come back in a part-time capacity in 2010 to oversee about four Youth Bureau programs. Scott declined to comment on what she thought of the plan.
“With the support at the city level, the county could eliminate expenses,” Tobin said.
The county Youth Bureau secretary is budgeted to make $32,293 in 2010.
Tobin said he and Hartnett will meet with Schrader and Gazda to determine how to proceed.
Tobin said the officials must decide what responsibilities the city and county could pick up for one another but first a commitment must be made to proceed with the plan. Once officials agree on a plan then, Tobin said, department heads would be drawn into the discussions.
McNerney said he is willing to discuss a plan to merge but warned against a move that would adversely impact the services. He said in this time of fiscal hardship it would be sending the “wrong message to families and kids to cut services on their backs.”
Legislator Dan Tagliente (D-7th Ward) said legislators are trying to cut expenses but there is no excess money to cut so the changes are severe.
“The sad thing is there is no alternative,” Tagliente said, calling consolidation a good solution if the state backs the move.

 

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