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State official fields questions on mandate relief, education in Lowville

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LOWVILLE — Mandate relief and educational initiatives were among the topics raised by area officials Friday during a visit from a representative of the governor.

Mandate relief is not a panacea, said Matthew J. Driscoll, president and CEO of the state Environmental Facilities Corp., adding that local governments need to seek ways to operate more efficiently and cooperatively.

However, the former Democratic mayor of Syracuse also promised to take concerns about mandate relief — raised primarily by West Carthage Mayor Scott M. Burto and Lewis County Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville — back to Albany. A mandate relief commission remains active and probably will advance more recommendations in the near future, he said.

“We’ll all want to see what they come up with,” Mr. Driscoll said.

Mr. Hathway said the state cap on Medicaid cost increases to counties implemented last year was appreciated, “but you only decreased the increase.”

Lewis County officials over the past few years have had to make some difficult decisions in order to cover cost increases for mandated programs without implementing huge property tax hikes, but there is only so much they can do without sacrificing services, he said.

“I think it’s time the state starts making some on our behalf,” Mr. Hathway said.

After Mr. Driscoll discussed the governor’s plan to promote full-day prekindergarten through grant funding, Beaver River Central School District Board of Education member Marian M. Opela said her district has long wanted to establish a preschool program but has been unable to fund even a half-day one. She asked where the money would come from and how districts will apply.

Mr. Driscoll said more detail will come out with the release of the governor’s proposed budget, but the grant program initially would target low-wealth school districts. “I think all that information will be out shortly,” he said.

Mr. Driscoll began his presentation by reviewing major points from Wednesday’s State of the State address.

The governor plans to create jobs by taking better advantage of research done in New York colleges and universities, improving work force training, encouraging renewable energy development and improving regional marketing through a competitive grant program mirrored on the regional economic development councils.

Ideas for educational improvement include lengthening the school year, implementing a “bar exam” for teacher certification and better utilizing school buildings as hubs for community services.

The governor also is seeking to improve women’s equality, establish improved response teams for natural disasters and enact a ban on assault weapons. “I want to emphasize, this is not about hunters,” Mr. Driscoll said.

The governor has appointed an energy czar to oversee several state agencies, like the New York Energy Research and Development Agency, he said.

Legislator Patrick F. Wallace, R-Lowville, expressed concern about over-regulation and larger government and took exception to the czar idea. “That’s Obama crap,” he said.

Mr. Driscoll said that state agencies are working to get more efficient, not larger, and that having a coordinated effort is needed to improve the state’s energy infrastructure.

Improving infrastructure at the local level also is important, but federal funding will need to be retained, he said.

“It’s important that you speak to your elected representatives” in Congress, Mr. Driscoll said.

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