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Editorials

Collins to appear before the County Legislature on Thursday on Collocation grant termination
By Lee Chowaniec
Mar 26, 2008, 08:51
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A resolution sponsored by County Legislators Mazur, Reynolds, Marinelli, Whyte, Kozub, Kennedy, Miller –Williams, Grant, Wroblewski and Loughran requests that County Executive Chris Collins appear before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday March 27, 2008 to explain his decision not to enter into contract for the NYS Collocation Program for substance abuse prevention and assessment services.

The resolution declares that the Erie County Executive requested permission from the Erie County Legislature to enter into an expanded contract with Erie County Medical Center to provide certain services related to substance abuse prevention and assessment in conjunction with the Erie County Child Protective Services Division.

The NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) provided the entire funding for the three-year program ($4.2 million). The services provided by the state grant would have been of great value to the residents of Erie County, particularly chemically dependent youth who are at great risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.

Collins’s March 14, 2008 letter to the Legislature

In a letter to the Legislature on March 14th, Collins declared that he knew his decision to “negotiate” the substance abuse contract concerned several legislators.

However, he expressed that his decision was motivated by one driving force, namely, “That force is the best interest of the taxpayer."

He then lists his decision reasons:

1. The grant provides annual $1.4 million in taxpayer dollars, over a three-year period, to implement a service already being offered by the Department of Social Services.

2. The grant would trigger the hiring of nearly 20 county employees.

3. Past programs indicate that programs initially funded with grants, and costs linked to their hiring, rarely terminate when the grant funding does. Instead, they revert to general fund expenditures at a direct cost to county taxpayers.

4. Erie County still finds itself in the midst of a fiscal crisis and Collins cannot allow the county to take on another impending financial burden. Maintaining these 20 employees beyond the grant period would cost Erie County taxpayers more than $1 million annually in unfounded salaries and benefits.

Collins plan

Collins goes on to say that for the reasons aforementioned, he has asked the State to renegotiate this pilot program and to let the county “outsource” the program. “This would alleviate the incidental costs of the program as well as long-term fiscal repercussions.”

“Private sector agencies are better equipped to handle these types of cases and Erie County should be looking for these types of partnerships to save taxpayer dollars.”

Collins goes on to say that he strongly supports the defense of children and families in unfortunate situations of drug and alcohol abuse and that the county will continue to provide such services.

“Accepting a state grant that allocates $1.4 million to Erie County to provide a duplicate program that forces us to hire employees, provide office space, equipment and technology is not a core function.”

“This is an abuse of taxpayer dollars and I have stopped it in my capacity and authority as County Executive.”

Comments

Some Legislators and individuals have difficulty following Collins’ logic.

According to Collins, the county already provides like services. The Collocation grant program is an abuse of taxpayer dollars. That is why Collins terminated it.

However, he would like to renegotiate the Collocation grant contract and give the money to the private sector that can better handle the program and where we have the potential to save tax dollars.

Can a private sector provider do the job cheaper consider the county counselors are making $30,000 - $35,000 per year? Better?

Either the county provides full services and the Collocation should be terminated, or the program should go to the service provider originally intended (ECMC).

In truth, the program benefits the entire family, not just the child. Because of a child’s substance abuse issues that child often abuses families. The county programs in place do not offer mandated follow ups and treatments.

Collins again declares that the county would experience costs from hiring replacement personnel, computers and providing office space and technology. It is understood by many county workers that the State grant funded all of the aforementioned needs.

It is a provisional grant that expires after three years. Once its done, it’s done. Collins then has the opportunity to dissolve the program at no cost to the taxpayer.

Thursday’s encounter should be interesting! Public unions under siege! Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!


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