By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO July 10, 2001 Earlier this year, Sullivan County agreed to join the pool to immediately receive a portion of the gigantic tobacco settlement monies. The funds will be received later this summer.
On Thursday, July 5, during the Sullivan County Legislature's Financial Management Committee meeting, lawmakers discussed how to handle the estimated $13 million coming the countys way. It is mandated that a minimum of 60 percent be used for debt reduction, and the rest can only go toward capital projects.
The discussion focused on whether 60 percent or the full 100 percent of the money would be used for debt defeasance. Legislators projected that they could pay off bonds from past projects and free up more money in the general fund. Thus, more cash would be available for such programs as education, capital projects, and new initiatives.
Financial Management Administration Commissioner Richard LaCondre drew up plans for both scenarios. If the 100 percent plan was accepted, it would pay off bonds from 1975, 1983, 1986, 1989, and 1999 which would come to approximately $12 million.
The Legislature requested that LaCondre, County Manager Dan Briggs, and County Attorney Ira Cohen prepare the resolution. It was passed and will appear before the full board at their monthly meeting on Thursday, July 19.
Legislature Chair Rusty Pomeroy pushed for an amendment to the resolution. Some months back, the Legislature passed a resolution guaranteeing 10 percent from the annual payments to go to tobacco education and health related issues. Once the debt is taken care of and more money will be in the general fund, Pomeroy requested a certain percentage each year go to these programs.
"I just want to renew our commitment," Pomeroy stated. "A good use for the funds is to educate kids."
"I am willing to obligate," Legislator Rodney Gaebel said. "We need more information to put this into place. We are up against a deadline. Let's not cloud the issue."
It was decided that about 10 percent of the money freed up in the general fund would be used for tobacco education and health-related issues. Over 20 years (the original amount of time to pay the settlement), $1.75 million will be used for these programs. That comes out to approximately $85,000 a year.
Also on Thursday, the first meeting of the settlement oversight board took place. The board is made up of LaCondre, Briggs, Pomeroy, Gaebel (minority leader), and Leni Binder (majority leader). A person from outside the government will be added to the board. The purpose of the meeting was to set up the by-laws and to prepare to receive the settlement.