LITTLE VALLEY - Through a bit of controversy, the 2014 leadership slate has been established and the year is ready to start for the Cattaraugus County Legislature.
With a bit of dissension among the Republican ranks as to who would be seated as the chairman for the coming year, District 3 Legislator Norman Marsh, RLittle Valley, retained the seat he held in 2013. Marsh had won a straw poll in late 2013 to test the waters in leadership for the county GOP. He won by one vote. Speculation has surfaced that the vote to sway the seat to Marsh was aided by now-Olean Mayor Bill Aiello, who, as a District 10 county legislator, was allowed to cast his vote.
After an afternoon of deliberation, county Republicans took their seats in the chamber and District 6 Legislator James Snyder Jr., RCuba, made a motion for Marsh to take the seat again. Being unopposed in the public nomination, County Administrator John R. "Jack" Searles declared Marsh chairman for the year.
In his address to the members of the legislature, Marsh said the preceding year was very smooth, as the budget went, but some processes will need refining in the coming year.
"While out tax rate may not have been as low as we would have liked, with the uncertainty of the economy, I think we did a good job," he said. "With some new ideas from the Ad Hoc Budget Committee that helped in this past year, our procedural and financial aspects should be improved over the next few years."
An area that will need some work this year, and in years to come, will be the development of a plan on how the county can better handle changes in Medicaid, as New York state moves toward full control of the program, Marsh said.
"Our plan must be adaptable to different situations in a short period of time," he said. "It looks like any departments that are impacted by Medicaid will have a busy year."
Another process that will need to be redeveloped in the coming year, Marsh said, will be in how the county disseminates funds from casino revenue payments.
"With New York state and the Seneca Nation of Indians resolving the gaming dispute, our county came into millions of dollars. While this may sound like a dream come true, it created problems that we were not prepared for, due to the magnitude of the requests," he said. "I think we need to initiate a new process and criteria by which we distribute casino money. While this may be just clarifying some things, it also means incorporating new ideas in how we handle these requests."
After being seated as the minority leader for another term, James Boser - D - District 7, Allegany - offered his views on some of the more pressing issues facing the county in the coming year, as well as some of the highlights of 2013.
Boser said one more issue will be facing the county in 2014 that needs to be discussed: the county nursing homes.
"We must deal with the county nursing homes, a very difficult decision will have to be made," he said. "With all the changes we have seen with the Affordable Care Act, and with many more to come, it will be a trying time for the county."
A trend uncovered in the 2012 audit of nursing homes for the county found that more and more costs are building to keep the facilities viable, but they are not hitting the self-sufficient point, needing additional funding.
"The Machias facility is not in a strong financial position and will not be for the foreseeable future," said Michael McCarthy of McCarthy & Conlon, LLP, the firm that has handled the auditing services for the homes, in June. "Funds are going to have to come from somewhere, general fund or from the taxpayers. It is going to need a subsidy before the end of the year."
Boser said the County Museum building issue will have to be addressed in the coming year as well.
"This building has generated more correspondence than anything I have seen in 10 years," he said, adding that the move of the Board of Elections from the other side of the museum building went well. "The move to the old Little Valley school ... went well with their new facility being a most welcome change and providing a facility that meets all of their needs."
With the initial dispute settled, the vice-chair position was met with contention with legislature republicans nominating James Snyder Sr. - R-District 10, Olean - and William Sprague - D-District 4, Yorkshire - receiving the nomination from the Democratic contingent. On a party line vote, Snyder took the seat.
Leadership for the Cattaraugus County Republicans were appointed as District 5 Legislator Donna Vickman - R- Farmersville Station - as majority leader, Patrick Murphy - R-District 2, Cattaraugus - as assistant leader, and Steven Teachman - R-District 10, Olean - as majority whip.
On the other side of the aisle, in addition to Boser continuing to serve as minority leader, Sprague will serve as assistant leader and Susan Labuhn - D-District 9, Salamanca - as whip.
All of the leadership for the coming year was sworn in by Cattaraugus County Judge, Ronald Ploetz, swearing them in together in the spirit of unity, he said.
Ploetz also swore in re-elected District Attorney Lori Pettit Reiman, flanked by her family, re-elected Sheriff Timothy Whitcomb, with his family, and his daughter in-arm, and Undersheriff, William Nichols.
The legislature will get to regular business at their next scheduled meeting Wednesday at the Third Floor Legislative Chambers at the County Center, 303 Court St., Little Valley. The session will start at 3 p.m.