Immediate Release

 For Information Contact:

Tuesday, January 4, 2021

Brian Adey

 Griffo: Overhaul Government
Through Reform, Restructuring

2005 State of the County Address Calls for Changes at All Levels of Government

            Comparing the plight of local taxpayers to the American colonists who needed reforms that government would not provide, Oneida County Executive Joseph A. Griffo today called for a sweeping reform and restructuring of government as part of his 2005 State of the County Address .

“Two hundred and thirty years ago, the people of this region and all America took their future into their own hands when far-off government would not hear the needs of local communities, made the colonists pay burdensome taxes over which they had no control and resisted the groundswell of popular opinion calling for reform,” Griffo said. “Look at us now. Dysfunctional has become the most commonly used word to describe how our New York State government operates. Trickle-down taxation to fund programs over which we have no control has robbed local governments of their flexibility. Swollen government is too often the problem and not the solution. We need a new American Revolution to change course now – before it is too late.

Speaking to more than 250 students, elected officials and community members at Westmoreland High School, Griffo called for reforms at all levels of government and a reduction in the size and scope of costly programs such as Medicaid.

            Speaking directly to the students at Westmoreland as well as those at Remsen and New York Mills viewing the speech live on the BOCES Distance Learning Network, Griffo said: “Today, in New York State, you are living in an unprecedented time when people have lost confidence in their government, and have turned away from it instead of trying to fix it. The cost of that disconnect is draining their bank accounts dry. There is a lesson here. When the people who hold the power in a democracy do not use it, government drifts out of control. Democracy functions when citizens take an active, aggressive role. It is not a spectator sport.”

            “Today, I ask you and all of Oneida County to join me in sending a message: We have had enough, we have paid enough, and we are fighting back.”

Griffo said he reform-oriented agenda calls for every level of government to make its top mission to reduce its size and scope.

Griffo called on the state Legislature to pass legislation for a constitutional convention, which would then face voter approval. He also called for the state to give New Yorkers the power of initiative and referendum. “ New York was a cradle of liberty in the American Revolution. I call upon our lawmakers in Albany to support these actions to revive the spirit of our democracy,” Griffo said, adding that he hoped county residents would join county legislators in a planned trip to Albany to demand Medicaid reform.

Griffo called for a state takeover of Medicaid, or at the very least a cap to limit county costs. Medicaid is projected to cost $63 million in the county budget for 2005 and could balloon to more than $100 million by 2009. He also said that the county would seek to join existing lawsuits alleging drug companies overcharge Medicaid, unfairly increasing its costs.

Griffo also called for a reduction in Medicaid benefits, noting that drugs such as Viagra must be paid for under federal rules. “In 2003, Medicaid patients in Oneida County racked up more than $2 million in prescription bills for three medicines to treat acid reflux and heartburn – giving taxpayers a bad case of upset wallets!” Griffo said.

“Benefits exist for the needy, not the greedy. If anyone thinks they can just walk into Oneida County and start running up a tab, they need to think twice,” Griffo said, announcing that he would build upon existing anti-fraud efforts to increase time Social Services workers spend fighting fraud, even if that means reducing hours when new cases can be opened.

Griffo also announced that County Government will unveil a new Pharmacy Benefit Manager initiative that will help make prescription drugs more affordable for people who cannot pay these staggering costs because they do not have any insurance.

             To reduce the cost of government, Griffo said changes are needed both in county government and in other local governments.

           County Government is not structured for the future. County Government has tried to be too many things to too many people and has grown too large,” he said. “ Oneida County is in the position where it cannot afford business as usual. … We have too many departments in a structure that is too decentralized for efficient management oversight.”

Griffo’s plan calls for:

·        Exploring the creation of a “Community Services” Department to bring together many human services operations under a streamlined structure to reduce staff, trim overhead and increase accountability.

·        Creating fiscal and programmatic performance goals in every department, with increased internal audits by the Comptroller’s office to identify poor-performing programs and areas where new policies are needed to improve operations.

·        Studying and implementing a federal government model to create a competitive bidding process in which private sector businesses would have increased opportunities to bid on work now done in county departments.

·        County charter reform to streamline operations and eliminate red tape.

·        Moving the budget adoption date from November to December, as is done in Herkimer and Madison counties, to better adjust to late state and federal budgets.

·        Creating an easier-to-understand county budget format.

·        Implementing an early retirement program, if it saves the county money.

·        Adopting video arraignments

           “Change must cut across all levels of government to provide real relief,” Griffo said. “No one would impose on anyone our current patchwork of village, town, city and county governments along with special taxing districts, school districts and authorities. It is wasteful, inefficient and creates a system filled with barriers to cooperation. Even when we all are trying to do the right thing, it is a waste of money we no longer have.”

Noting his personal opposition to “Big Government,” Griffo called for regional restructuring of government “in high-cost, essential areas such as law enforcement and public works to determine whether these are better done at the highest or lowest levels of government, as long as they do not continue at every level.”

 In other issues, Griffo said:

·        Regional unity is vital to winning the expected effort to protect Rome Lab from the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. “Winning the fight for the Lab is our major challenge for 2005. Instead of focusing on small issues that divide us politically or geographically, we need a unified stand that sends the right message to BRACC,” he said. “Our efforts must develop an urgency and unity so that we can tell our story to the right people in the right way. “

·        He hopes an agreement between New York State and Native American tribes can bring about closure to the long-running Oneida Indian Nation land claim and the tax issues surrounding the Oneidas ’ enterprises. “The goals for Oneida County are very basic, and we have made it clear we won’t support less than this: a revenue stream for local governments that will come from the casino's operations, making local governments whole in terms of lost property taxes and sales taxes, establishing reasonable limits on future Indian land purchases, protecting the rights and future of landowners and ensuring a level playing field for our businesses.”  Griffo also called for a regional climate of mutual respect and cooperation. “The Oneida Indian Nation of New York is our region’s largest employer. Turning Stone and the Nation are part of our lives and our community. In the courtroom and at the negotiating table, we have serious differences. But there is no room in our region for malice that poisons us against our neighbors. Our future is not an all-or-nothing scenario. It is all of us, and we must work together, or fail separately.” 

·        He will continue to play an active role through litigation in the courts and lobbying state officials in the effort to bring the right ownership to Vernon Downs so that the track can once again be a premier attraction.

·        Aggressive action will be undertaken to speed up development of the new Griffiss Airfield, and that action will be taken in 2005 to formally designate Griffiss as the county airport, once work is completed, and ramp up planning for the current Whitestown airport.  

·        In 2005, Oneida County will attempt to secure new Small Cities funding and leverage existing state and federal funding to create a new grant and loan program that will be targeted at helping small employers add new jobs. Griffo is also asking state representatives to support funding for a full-time marketing director who will raise the region’s profile, provide new energy and create new opportunities. 

·        Griffo said the effort to become a part of the regional CENTRO system is moving forward, but cautioned that “ without CENTRO, mass transit in Oneida County will wither and die.”

           Griffo called for an Oneida County College Council so that we can take full advantage of the tremendous resources our colleges bring to our county and help develop an ongoing process of economic and community visioning that can keep our region focused on the future.”

 The Oneida County Council on Sports, Fitness and Health will be created to develop programs for exercise and nutrition that can be adapted by schools and agencies that work with young people, as well as programs for older adults.

“We have to make a stronger commitment to the environment, to embrace all the assets we have in the county,” Griffo said. “Through a combination of a county-supported environmental planning efforts, local partnerships and service learning projects for our youth, we can develop stronger and more attractive communities.”

Griffo also recognized several area residents, including NHL star Rob Esche for his efforts on behalf of local children; Jimmy Joseph of the Wheelchair Curling Team from Utica, who is representing the United States in the World Curling Championships; Frank Gaetano, who just retired from County Government after years of outstanding service running the print shop and who was cited by Griffo for his outstanding can-do spirit; and Donna Beckett, Carol Sweet, Lori Dutcher, and Lynda Mallabar of our Department of Social Services, who used their own time to plant flowers and beautify the Oneida County Office Building.

Employees of the Department of Social Services, who used their own time to plant flowers and beautify the Oneida County Office Building.

Jimmy Joseph of the Wheelchair Curling Team from Utica, who is representing the United States in the World Curling Championships