County Executive Candidates Discuss Medicaid, Welfare Drug Testing

Editor’s Note: Part two of the debate between Chautauqua County Executive candidates Mike Ferguson and George Borrello will appear in the Saturday edition of The Post-Journal and will focus on the economy, sanctuary cities and repowering of the power plant in Dunkirk.

Democratic candidate Mike Ferguson and Republican candidate George Borrello figuratively duked it out on the stage of the Spire Theatre in downtown Jamestown during a debate held by the Tea Party on Thursday night.

The two delved into issues like medicaid payments, the economy and the Dunkirk power plant. These questions were given to the candidates ahead of time, giving them the chance to prepare and consider their answers.

The debate was moderated by the Rev. Mel McGinnis.

Ferguson, born in Buffalo, is a lifelong Western New Yorker who’s spent over 28 years in Chautauqua County with his wife, Dianne. He has experience in marketing, athletic facility management and event production and is the marketing executive for Fredonia Place, an assisted-living community. Ferguson was previously the executive and general manager for what was known as the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena, now the Northwest Arena.

Borrello is a Chautauqua County native who was born and raised in Silver Creek and Fredonia. He graduated from Fredonia High School in 1985 and graduated from Purdue University in 1989. He founded Top-Shelf Marketing in his early 20s, which became a nationally-recognized supplier in the hospitality industry. He later merged the company with Progressive Specialty Glass Company and became vice president of marketing. Borrello recently retired from his private business career to focus on being a public servant.

Getting into the debate, Ferguson was given the first question on Medicaid.

When it comes to medicaid payments that are made by the county to Albany, Ferguson said what the county needs to do first is get people back to work and grow the economy. He said the county hasn’t done a good job of getting people off the welfare rolls and putting them on job rolls.

“We need to put them back to work – we need a plan, we need a vision and we need execution,” Ferguson said.

He said it is also important to make sure that creativity is important in bringing in new streams of revenues.

Borrello said he believes New York state should be responsible for the payments because Medicaid is a program that is controlled by the state. Currently, the Medicaid payments are now fixed by the state, he said.

“They’re not growing, they’re at a fixed rate,” Borrello said, adding the rate is still high.

If the state was responsible for the costs, it would then have to take responsibility for its own actions, he said. Borrello said he agrees that getting people back to work is important, but the welfare to work program has gone beyond that under the leadership of County Executive Vince Horrigan. Current statistics pointed out that the program has a 23.5 percent participation rate, which is above the state average.

Another question posed to the candidates asked if they agreed with drug testing for welfare recipients.

Ferguson said he isn’t sure what drug testing for welfare recipients accomplishes. He said kicking people off welfare if they test positive for drugs could have consequences that include families losing their children who will then become wards of the state, individuals not being able to get the help they need and having people “running the streets” and possibly committing crimes to get money.

“It sounds great, but it makes no sense when you think about it,” Ferguson said.

He said he doesn’t think it’s the way to go right now.

Borrello said he thinks drug testing for welfare recipients should be done.

“At the end of the day, we have to remember one thing: people need to be accountable for their own actions,” he said. “In New York state, the likelihood of ever being able to test is almost zero, so that’s unfortunate.”

Borrello said if recipients know they have the possibility of being drug tested, it could be a deterrent for drug use, which may be useful when it comes to the drug epidemic.

“If that saves one life, it’s well worth it,” he said.

Ferguson responded that for those in the midst of a drug addiction, the threat of a urine test isn’t going to be enough. He said people have to be reeducated and back to work programs need to be introduced.

“If you want to scare someone, tell them they have to go back to work, if they are able to do so, to receive those benefits,” he said.

While there are many people receiving benefits that don’t need them, Ferguson said those who do need them should get every penny due to them.