OWEGO — Tioga County Legislators recently approved a handful of resolutions to facilitate increased spending following state-enacted changes in the criminal justice system and election protocol.
In terms of the governor’s criminal justice reform, county legislators approved the creation of a new Chief Assistant District Attorney position and the increase in hours for other positions in that office.
“This is a remedy to fix a non-existent problem in upstate,” said Legislator Bill Standinger. “This is to address issues in the downstate area, but Albany typically takes a one-size-fits-all approach and throws a mandate on us to pay for it. Although I will vote for this, I’m not happy about it.”
“This is another example of the change in the criminal justice system in New York State,” said Legislator Dennis Mullen. “The burden is now upon the people to provide so much (that in the past) the defense had to request. It is costing the county upwards of $100,000 in the next couple years. We’re creating more and more positions, plus establishing a CAP court.”
“It’s another example of overreach from Albany, in my opinion — unnecessary,” Mullen continued.
“It was brought up in a prior meeting that we’re looking at a $30,000 to $40,000 impact; $100,000 this year,” said Mullen. “Albany County asked for $4 million for their DA’s office to remedy this situation.”
“None of it is funded,” Mullen said. “It’s all unfunded, and unnecessary.”
County documents explain that Central Arraignment Part (CAP) Court regulations will require staff of the DA’s office to appear at both morning and night court sessions when arraignments occur, along with the requirement that DA staff prepare and present motions and discovery packets.
“Current staffing level(s) will not accommodate the additional workload resulting from the new regulations,” legislators said.
Part-time DA staff will see hours increase from 17 to 29 hours per week, county documents note.
Currently, roughly 85 percent of county budget is dedicated to over 45 state-mandated programs.
Regarding the implementation of early voting, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said would be “transformative,” counties are required to have a voting facility open for nine days preceding election day and are required to purchase electronic poll books and on-demand ballot printers.
“The cost of (early voting), at least in Tioga County just this year, is roughly $143,000,” said Legislator Loretta Sullivan. “Now, a big chunk of that is new software and devices that have to be purchased, but I just wanted people to be aware that it’s a costly undertaking.”
“You can imagine larger counties with larger populations, what the cost is to them,” she said.
“If I can add to that — it’s yet another unfunded mandate from our equivalence in Albany,” said Legislator Standinger.
County documents note that the poll books “will be instrumental in implementing early voting due to the necessity of tracking and uploading voter history at the end of each day of early voting to prevent voter fraud.”
Being that the county has over 33,000 registered voters, and the state recommends one e-poll book per 500 voters, Tioga County will be purchasing 68 units at a cost of $1,762 each, for a total of $127,196.
The cost of four on-demand ballot printers is quoted at $595 each, for a total of $2,380.
Additionally, the cost of 19 secure routers is quoted at $200 each, for a total of $3,800.
Legislators approved the receipt of a state grant contract from the New York State Board of Elections in the amount of $42,108.
The funds have not yet been disbursed, but the resolution’s approval qualifies the county to receive those funds, according to county documents.
Voters looking to cast their ballots before the Nov. 5 general election date may do so at the Tioga County Board of Elections Office, at varying daily hours, between Saturday, Oct. 26 and Sunday, Nov. 3.
The office is located at 1062 State Route 38 in Owego.