By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO February 27, 2001 When the Sullivan County Legislature came into existence in 1996, the county was not in good shape. Unemployment was up. The county had a large debt. Optimism seemed at an all-time low.
As of 2001, the county's fund balance has reached an all-time high of $23 million. Unemployment is down, and sales tax collection is up. Several mega-projects including Kohl's, the Bethel Performing Arts Center, the Concord, and a possible casino are all looming on the horizon.
Naturally enough, these were just some of the highlights of the sixth State of the County address delivered by Sullivan County Legislature Chair Rusty Pomeroy on Thursday.
Nearly 100 people braved a nasty snowstorm to listen to Pomeroy's assessment of the county, and while the audience was quiet for most of Pomeroy's address, he managed to get a standing ovation when he was done.
"I think he did very well," commented Community General Hospital Board Chair Joyce Salimeno. "There are exciting things on the horizon. We will need everyone's efforts [to make it happen]."
"There is a bright future for Sullivan County," agreed Town of Forestburgh Supervisor John J. Bill Sipos. "He addressed all the issues. We need to retain the youngsters here. They are our future's building blocks."
"It was very informative," Village of Monticello board member Victor Marinello, Jr. said. "It is essential for the community to work together as a team. We need to make the county even stronger."
Pomeroy complimented his fellow legislators, but he noted that, while they have worked hard in the past, there is even more hard work ahead. He mentioned each legislator by name save District 9s Steven Kurlander, who was not present and discussed what projects they will be working on in the upcoming year.
One of the more well-received proposals was an incentive program to keep young people here in the county. The program would pardon all or part of a returning graduate student's loans in exchange for working in the area for a specified amount of time. Pomeroy suggested the program last year and stated that his biggest disappointment was not getting it off the ground. He announced that Legislator Chris Cunningham would be assisting in this effort.
"I like the program with the kids, but I need to know more on where the funding will come from," stated Legislature Minority Leader Rodney Gaebel. "It [the speech] sounded good. I am an advocate for looking at each program to see that we are getting the best for our money."
Pomeroy did touch on an issue that has been mentioned in recent months at several committee meetings: government re-evaluations. He stated that Legislator Kathleen LaBuda would head up an effort to take a hard look at all the departments and re-evaluate them.
Other legislators will be busy as well. Pomeroy said Bob Kunis will look at quasi- and non-governmental agencies and see how they work with government. Gaebel has already begun to look at the future of the Sullivan County Landfill. Analyzing human services and unfunded mandates will be Legislady Leni Binder, and Legislator Gordon MacKinnon will continue his work with the 911 system especially in the area of residents clearly posting their street addresses. Legislator Jodi Goodman will head up a Cultural Diversity Task Force and deal with the issues that come with summer residents.
"Rusty touched all the points well," Village of Monticello Manager Richard Sush commented. "I found the speech very inspiring."
"He did a wonderful job. It was impressive," remarked Sullivan County Visitors Association President Roberta Byron-Lockwood. "I thought it was very positive for the Visitors Association. It is nice to see tourism embraced the way that it is."
While none of the issues mentioned received ovations, several people mentioned by Pomeroy did. His grandparents, his wife, County Manager Dan Briggs, Financial Management Administration Commissioner Richard LaCondré, and Commissioner of General Services Harvey Smith nearly brought the house down when mentioned. (LaCondré and Smith served as co-county managers before Briggs assumed the position.)
Although subdued, most of the crowd commented positively on Pomeroys speech. However, the true impact of his address likely will be seen and felt at the first set of March committee meetings this Thursday.