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State still withholding funds from Greene for "home rule" county treasurer replacement decision

Dec 09, 2010 11:16 am
The Daily Mail follows up on the all-but-forgotten story of how the governor’s office is continuing to withhold hundreds of thousands of dollars over what the county is calling its home-rule treasurer appointment, and county officials are "continuing negotiations to prevent a courtroom battle."

Greene County Attorney Carol Stevens was careful in discussing the issue Wednesday morning, according to reporter Colin DeVries, saying that negotiations with the state have not yet failed and there was still hope to avoid a lawsuit.

“We’re trying to work the governor’s office for a resolution that meets both our needs,” she said. “I hope we are going to resume talks today.”

The state is withholding more than $700,000 in federal and state reimbursement funding. They are withholding the funds because the county-appointed interim Greene County Treasurer Thomas Tracey was not duly appointed by the governor’s office, therefore Tracey’s signature on reimbursement funding documents is viewed by the state as invalid.

According to state law, the vacancy of an elective county office shall be filled by gubernatorial appointment, with the exception of the county coroner’s office. Greene County has argued, however, that the home-rule statue of New York State allows the county legislature to make the interim treasurer appointment.

Stevens said that while negotiations were hopeful, the county was prepared to file suit over the funds.

Tracey took over the office on July 31, the same day longtime Greene County Treasurer Willis Vermilyea retired from the office. Tracey was the treasurer office’s director of administrative services since January 2008. He did not run for election as treasurer.

Catskill town supervisor Peter Markou, a Republican, was elected as treasurer on Nov. 2, with a 1,607-vote margin over Democratic challenger Alan Pavese.

Both the governor’s office and the county agreed to appoint the winner of the election as treasurer, though the county pre-empted the governor’s appointment. Markou, who desired transition time for his duties as Catskill supervisor, was appointed by county lawmakers Nov. 17 and began serving as interim treasurer on Dec. 1, a month prior to his official swearing in.

Wayne Speenburgh, chairman of the Greene County Legislature, said during a special meeting Tuesday night that negotiations had gone “south” since the appointment.

A resolution, drafted with the assistance of the New York State Association of Counties, to formalize the treasurer’s office transition and resolve the funding dispute was submitted to the governor’s office. It was returned with undisclosed changes, furthering the impasse.

Stevens said one of the proposed solutions to release the funds was to have Markou retroactively approve reimbursement documents Tracey had signed since taking office, essentially validating them with a state-recognized treasurer’s signature.

The governor’s office did not return inquiries Wednesday morning.