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State releases withheld funds to Greene County

Jan 06, 2011 5:59 am
One of the sticking points in local politics of late has been the state's withholding of promised funds owed Greene County, held back by Gov. David Paterson’s administration due to a disagreement over the county treasurer appointment made last summer after Willis Vermilyea retired before the end of his term. But yesterday, January 5, just hours before his first State of the State Address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed the release of $2.5 million in social services funds less than 24 hours after a letter of inquiry was sent to the governor’s office Tuesday afternoon. The money being held back, reports Colin DeVries of the Daily Mail this morning, was for food stamps, Medicaid and heating assistance benefits, among other social services.

After County Treasurer Willis Vermilyea retired in July, the Greene County Legislature appointed Republican Thomas Tracey, the treasurer’s office director of administrative services, as interim treasurer. Gov. Paterson’s counsel argued the appointment had to be made by the governor and a home-rule power struggle began, then developed for months as the governor’s office considered Tracey’s signature on reimbursement documents invalid, forcing the state to withhold funds.

The conflict wasn’t even settled after November’s election determined Peter Markou, Catskill town supervisor, was chosen as county treasurer. Even though both the governor’s office and the county legislature agreed to appoint the winner of the election, the argument continued after county lawmakers preempted the governor’s formal appointment.

Greene County Legislature Chairman Wayne Speenburgh said he was “relieved” and “encouraged” by the decision.

“I’m surprised the governor’s office responded this quickly,” he said, noting it may be a sign of something better. “We may have a very good working relationship (with the new governor).”

The decision to release the funds was faxed to the county offices at 9 a.m. this morning, only four days after Gov. Cuomo’s new administration took over.

Counsel to the Governor Mylan Denerstein approved the order. She replaced Peter Kiernan, Gov. Paterson’s counsel, at the beginning of the year.

The governor’s office could not be reached for comment on why they decided to release the funds.

Speenburgh said the funds will begin coming in as soon as today.