Brooks’ FAIR plan gets green light in court

Bryan Roth

The school districts and residents of Monroe County were dealt a blow Monday evening, when State Supreme Court Judge Kenneth Fisher ruled in favor of the county in two lawsuits that sought to reclaim money lost in the FAIR plan.

Under the plan, which was adopted Sept. 26, the state will take over Monroe County’s $158 million annual Medicaid costs in return for a portion of the county’s sales tax revenue. The result will take about a $29 million bite out of the school districts’ budgets.

More than 20 school districts from around the county agreed to join forces in a lawsuit to sue under the provisions of the Morin-Ryan Agreement of 1985, which is meant to secure a set percentage of funding for sharing among school districts and municipalities in Monroe County. A group of 10 residents also sued, saying that the procedure in which County Executive Maggie Brooks went about having the FAIR plan approved broke the open meetings law.

In both cases, Fisher ruled in favor of the county, which is expected to adopt its $1.01 billion budget tonight. If passed, the FAIR plan would go into effect under the 2008 budget and would require suburban school districts to give 50 percent of their sales tax revenue to the county to help pay for the county's portion of the state Medicaid bill. Since the school sales tax revenue would foot the bill for Medicaid, the county is off the hook in that regard since they no longer have to budget for Medicaid programs, said county budget director Bill Carpenter.

It has been widely speculated by representatives from school districts around the county that if Fisher’s ruling was not in their favor, they would attempt to appeal the decision. There is no official word yet on if they plan to do so.

Dubbed the “FAIR” plan — the acronym stands for “Fairness, Accountability, Innovation and Results,” according to Brooks — the plan is an attempt to eliminate Monroe County’s projected budget gap of more than $102 million over the next two years.

Brooks has said that the increases in state aid that the districts received this year and should receive during the next few years will make up for the loss in sales tax revenue.

Brooks’ plan includes other cost-cutting measures. The county will “charge back” towns and villages for the costs associated with Monroe Community College based upon student residency, such that communities with more students attending the college will pay more to the county.

 The county will also generate an additional $3.5 million through raising vehicle registration in the county by $10. Brooks’ bill also contains a sweetener for taxpayers — it lowers the county property tax rate by 11 cents, cutting it from $9.10 to $8.99 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Bryan Roth can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 270, or at