By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO December 18, 2001 On December 6, the American Lung Association of the Hudson Valley released a report card on how counties spent their Tobacco Settlement money.
Sullivan County received a grade of "F".
However, that was because the county did not respond to attempts to get information on their spending. Thus, county officials dismissed the study and pointed out that they have set aside 10 percent of the settlement each year to use on anti-smoking education programs.
The subject was barely mentioned at the Sullivan County Legislature's Health and Family Services Committee meeting on Thursday, December 13. Instead, a bigger problem in the county was brought to light.
Health and Family Services Commissioner Judith Maier revealed that Sullivan County has the highest rate of teenage drinking and drug abuse in New York State outside of New York City. The news sparked a long discussion among officials on how to solve those difficulties and the county's equally high suicide rate.
"We need to rectify the problem," Legislator Bob Kunis stated. "We have discussed this a number of times. We need to do more."
"It is an age-old problem," Legislator Rodney Gaebel pointed out. "Each separate government entity offers different programs. Are we fixing the problem? These days, there is no family structure. No one is teaching values. We need to get to the root and deal with the parents."
Kunis suggested that part of the problem is that there is not enough for students to do on the weekends. He maintained that the schools should be open on the weekends so kids could play in the gym.
Kunis then related a tale from his own childhood of how he and his friends would break into the Fallsburg gym and play basketball. He said they were not hurting anybody and stayed out of trouble.
While not endorsing Kunis youthful way of biding time, Committee Chair Leni Binder suggested that he pitch a program to Fallsburg. Kunis agreed to help them institute activities.
Legislator Jodi Goodman pointed out that she has been very active with Liberty's programs. She noted how difficult it is to get more parents involved.
"There is just so much that can be done," Goodman remarked. "It is the same parents at the same functions. The family nucleus is not what it used to be."
Gaebel suggested getting the parents in and starting from "the ground up." Binder pointed out that they do have parenting programs currently in place. To increase them would involve extra funding.
"This is not the first time we have discussed this," Legislature Chair Rusty Pomeroy said. "In an ideal world, there would be two parents at home. That is not the world we live in. We can't change the world. However, we can address the problem. There is no problem, if pursued, that this group cannot address. We can develop programs. If we feel strongly enough, we can do it."
Maier pointed out that the county had a program titled "Healthy Beginnings," which did a great deal of what was mentioned by the legislators, including teaching values to the parents. Because of a shortage of funds, the $125,000 program was cut.
Gaebel requested a presentation on the program, and Maier said that could be arranged. Afterwards the legislators would decide whether or not to fund it again.
The lawmakers also stated that they would get in touch with the schools to discuss the problem.