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Westchester budget: Cornell Extension funding problems continue, cuts proposed
Posted By Elizabeth Ganga On November 24, 2012 @ 5:35 pm In Government & Politics,Westchester County | Comments Disabled
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s proposed 2013 budget would cut Cornell Cooperative Extension’s county funding from $990,000 this year to $600,000 next year, which would result in further cuts from the state and federal governments to its $3 million annual budget.
But the funding level is only one problem in the organization’s fiscal relationship with Westchester, said Barbara Sacks, the executive director.
The county’s Youth Bureau, which is part of the office of the county executive, took over the administration of the Cornell Extension contract in 2011 and changed the way the agency’s contract is paid. Instead of being paid in advance in quarterly installments, the bureau now requires Cornell to submit claims and receive reimbursement.
“They were used to getting a blank check divided by four across the year,” Youth Bureau Coordinator Mary Kate Cabaleiro told the Board of Legislators Budget Committee recently. “We’re asking for copies of payments made and that’s where the problem is coming in.”more->
Sacks said the county’s requirements have become so onerous that the agency is having trouble claiming the dollars it’s entitled to. It’s given up getting all its funding from 2011, which fell short by about $250,000, she said, and has just submitted claims for 2012. The claims were delayed this year because Cornell lawyers had problems with the county contract, Sacks said. State law is explicit that the extension is supposed to be paid quarterly or monthly, she said.
In the end, Cornell didn’t approve the contract because its lawyers considered it contrary to state statute, Sacks said, but the local board signed it anyway.
Cabaleiro told the budget committee, however, that Cornell never told the county about any problems it had with the contract. She offered them help many times, she said. But the bottom line, Cabaleiro said, is she takes accountability seriously.
“I’m not saying that they’re not doing their job but our practice is to ask for documentation,” she said.
Legislator Bill Ryan, D-White Plains, said there appears to be a complete breakdown in the process for paying Cornell and urged the board to take steps to get payments back on track. Cornell, he said, has a long track record of successfully complying with its county contracts. It provides programs in horticulture, nutrition, youth development and other areas and serves the green industry along with residents.
“All of a sudden we’re putting terms and conditions that are set by I don’t know who on their receipt of money,” potentially crippling their work, Ryan said. He suggested the administration’s true intention may be to save money by avoiding reimbursement.
Legislator MaryJane Shimsky, D-Hastings, said in tough economic times there’s often a desire to pile on reporting requirements but sometimes agencies end up spending all their time on paperwork and not on providing services. Then the logical step is to cut government.
“Before you know it government is becoming the Tea Party self-fulfilling prophesy,” she said.
One impact of past cuts, which brought the agency’s budget down from more than $4 million to the current $3 million, is a reduction in the number of people working on 4H youth development from six to 1.25, Sacks said. If the funding is cut more there will be more layoffs and further cuts from other funders.
“Every time the county cuts us a dollar within the next year or two the state drops us $2,” she said.
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