While everyone is enjoying the summer and trying to stay cool, Office for the Aging is hard at work on our budget for 2013.
Many of you may not know, but the county budget process starts in earnest with the departments submissions of an initial budget to the County Executive and his financial team in July.
After numerous reviews and scrutiny by the County Executive and budget director, budgets are finalized in August and presented to the Legislature in September. The Legislature then meets with each department head to further review their budget, have questions answered and debate impact of changes.
In October, the County Executive's budget is presented, the Legislature offers amendments based on their meetings, and then a final budget is established and voted on.
Every year you hear about mandated programs and non-mandated programs and probably wonder what those terms mean.
Mandated programs are those in the state and federal law that the county must provide like welfare, Medicaid and some Department of Health programs.
Many other programs fall in the non-mandated category like roads and bridges, veterans, Office for the Aging, lake improvement, 4-H, etc.
The challenge is that in the last few years, what we collect in taxes to fund all these programs has not changed - because none of us wants our property or sales tax to increase - but the cost of all programs has increased, and the mandated programs have grown exponentially.
To simplify the situation, there is less money to fund all the programs in the non-mandated category unless savings can be made in the mandated programs or new funding through taxes or other sources can be found. Being non-mandated does not mean these programs are not necessary, just that there is no provision in the law that says they must be funded.
Another factor in deciding the county budget is local match. Most programs, whether mandated or not, have state and federal funds, but require the county to provide a percentage of local dollars in order to receive those funds. Most Medicaid funds require 10 percent local matching funds, while many OFA programs like home care require a 25 percent local match, and most road projects like snow plowing is 100 percent local money.
This complicates matters when trying to decide where to spend our diminished local funds. Although, I have simplified things greatly, creating our county budget is not an easy process. That is why it is very important for all our residents to be involved and vocal during the budget process. These are tough decisions, and usually funding one project means another program gets cut or eliminated. It is important that our elected officials hear from everyone so that they can make the difficult choices about where to best utilize our limited resources.
As you can imagine, this is a particularly stressful time for Office for the Aging, which falls in the non-mandated category. While our senior population is expanding and our costs for programs have steadily increased, our revenues from state, federal and local funding has decreased or remained flat over the last five years. In addition, donations from our participants have stagnated as people are faced with their own economic problems, and many people have the misconception that OFA services are free since we are funded by the government.
In fact, OFA services are not free. While some OFA programs require the participant to pay part of the cost, most OFA programs rely on participant donations to keep them going and available for everyone. The donations received go to fund services and are not used to cover administrative costs. Recently OFA has asked all our participants to consider increasing their donations to help us ensure services like meals, transportation, health insurance counseling, home care, legal services and other vital programs for seniors.
In addition, OFA continues to develop other funding sources to ensure critical services for seniors. OFA set up the Mac McCoy/OFA Memorial fund at the community foundation so that people who benefit from our services during their lifetime but are not able to donate can make bequests to our office or have memorial donations after they pass. We have been very blessed that this way of assisting other seniors is catching on, but it may be many years before this fund becomes a significant source of revenue for our programs.
Other funding sources being developed by OFA include providing private pay services like Chautauqua County Medical Monitoring which uses the buying power of the county to provide a discount to anyone who wants this emergency response service and new programs funded by insurance like Care Transition Coaching.
Even with these new funded sources, OFA and the other county departments face significant challenges as we develop the 2013 county budget in a way that provides the most service in the most cost-efficient manner. The OFA staff and I remain committed to helping seniors stay safe, healthy and living in the community for as long as possible.
We encourage every senior to do their part to ensure these vital services are available for you and your neighbors, friends and family for many years to come. And as always, we welcome your comments, suggestions and assistance with everything we do.