Many New York counties face delays in state reimbursements for education and human services, county executives said during a conference call yesterday.

"We are seeing a lag in reimbursement for state programs and services, especially in special education programs for children and for health and human services-type programs," said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State County Executives Association.

The group organized the call to highlight fiscal problems faced by counties weathering the recession as Gov. David Paterson's administration crafts a plan to close a $2.1 billion current-year deficit.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said the state owes the county millions.

"The state holding back its money has a devastating impact on our cash flow," he said. "Were it not for our taking money out of the rainy-day fund and imposing a lag payroll on our employees we would not have been able to meet payroll."

In addition to the lag in reimbursements, Levy said Suffolk had seen a $100 million decline in its sales tax receipts.

State Division of Budget spokesman Matthew Anderson characterized the situation differently.

"The state is conducting all appropriate due diligence in reviewing these payments," he said in an e-mail. "Legitimate claims will be paid, but we have a duty to carefully scrutinize spending, especially in light of the current fiscal crisis."

Levy and other county executives said they were afraid that the state would eventually cut back some of the reimbursement money, leaving them to scramble to make up for funds that had already been spent.

Anderson said it was "premature" to discuss what action would be included in the governor's deficit reduction plan.

"The general theme is pretty standard for tough fiscal times," said Robert Ward, deputy director for the Rockefeller Institute, a public-policy think tank in Albany. "The state is going to look to its own problems first and worry about the impact on local governments sometime later, if ever."

However, it's hard to tell whether or not the state's actions were different from what it has done in the past, according to Ward.

Kent Gardiner, president and chief economist of the Center for Governmental Research Inc., a Rochester-based think tank, said he wasn't sure if New York was doing anything unusual but that "it's a standard cash-flow management technique to slow down your payables."

The NYSCEA's Acquario said that rising Medicaid costs, pension fund contributions expected to rise from 7.4% in 2010 to 11% in 2011, and unfunded mandates for state programs were challenging counties at a time when they can least afford it.

"As state lawmakers consider proposals to close the $2.1 billion budget deficit, we call on them to cut spending and not cost-shifting, and should they propose cutting spending we will stand with them," he said. "If they propose cost-shifting to county property-taxpayers, we will not and we will fight these proposals to protect county property-taxpayers who already pay too much property tax."

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