(Brookfield, Madison County, NY – Oct. 2012) It is necessary to clarify some of the statements that have been made recently about Madison County’s proposal to privatize the ADAPT program. The substance abuse program that the county has run for a number of years has been relatively successful and has definitely improved its finances. By being more efficient and aggressively pursuing reimbursement from Medicaid and private insurers, staff has done a good job at minimizing the impact on the county budget and the taxpayers.
For this we applaud their efforts, but this is only part of the story and a little background needs to be presented.
When the economy took a serious downturn, the return on investments that the state retirement fund enjoyed for a long time dropped precipitously. This required county and local budgets to make up the shortfalls in retirement contributions.
In my own town of Brookfield, we have seen a rise of nearly 300 percent over the past five years in the town’s retirement costs. This, along with skyrocketing health insurance costs that everyone is seeing and revenues coming in lower and lower every year, we have been presented with a situation that is extremely difficult to deal with.
Throw into the mix a 2-percent property tax cap that limits the amount we can raise in taxes, and you have a situation that demands some kind of cost savings.
We have painstakingly looked at how we can give our property taxpayers in our county a break by looking at each and every service Madison County offers. The Social and Mental Health Services Committee and the Public Health Services Committee I chair have worked countless hours to find ways to more efficiently deliver government services. It has been very difficult due to the high costs of retirement, health insurance and associated public employee benefits, all of which are going up.
It is with this in mind that we have made the decision to explore the private sector and its ability to provide services to our county citizens. Our first move was to privatize our home health care system. Contrary to claims made by Russ Stewart, president of the White Collar Union for the county, this has been an overwhelming success, providing a high level of care to those in need and saving the county taxpayers more than $750,000 the first year of its operation.
Also, a majority of those employed by the county found jobs with the new company at competitive pay and benefits. That company, HCR, invested more than $1 million to update systems, something the county could never do.
Given this success, we decided that the substance abuse program that the county operates may be considered for privatization. After many meetings of the committee and a specially formed task force to research this option, we put out bids to private agencies and received a small number of responses. As a result of extensive interviews with prospective agencies, we found that Family Counseling Services of Cortland was able to offer a number of options we felt will insure quality care and be able to provide services in a compassionate and efficient manner.
This includes the strong possibility of a satellite clinic in the southern part of the county, something that the county was just not able to do. Also, they already have a presence in Madison County and are anxious to expand.
And, as was mentioned by Mr. Stewart, there may be a cost to the county, but this is short-lived, and we are working hard to reduce that by offering options like office space and logistical support to the new company being considered.
The bottom line is that we will be reducing what we call “legacy” costs: retirement and health insurance, which can amount to hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
I can understand the frustration and the concern that Mr. Stewart has. He has been given the responsibility of representing his group of professionals, and he has done an admirable job at that. Unfortunately, we live in an environment that is much different than just a short time ago.
Government can no longer be everything to everybody; it is simply unaffordable, unsustainable and unrealistic and there has to be a limit.
Regarding the vote not to privatize by the Consumer Services Board, they simply do not have the perspective that we, as elected officials, have when it comes to dealing with property taxes and budgets that are capped while trying to deal with skyrocketing Medicaid and retirement costs. The taxpayers just cannot shoulder costs that are dictated by Albany and left to the locals to figure out.
As with the Home Health Care Agency, I have been vehement that those who have served the county so well are given every consideration for employment with any new agency providing services; it just makes good sense. I am confident that we will be able to deliver quality care and allow for the property taxpayers of our county to believe that we are working hard to help them in such difficult times.
John Salka, Supervisor, Town of Brookfield; Chairman, Social and Mental Health Services Committee