By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO August 16, 2005 Sullivan County Manager Dan Briggs responded to the countys annual audit report on Thursday, which has been used as a basis for calls to fire him by Sullivan County Legislature Chair Chris Cunningham and other Democrats in the Legislature.
Briggs, a Republican, noted that the county has earned many awards for its excellence in financial reporting. In over 20 years of experience, Briggs said he has seen good and bad audits, and this one rated on the good side.
This is a good audit, although it is intended to be critical, he said.
He commended the countys staff for doing an outstanding job.
He addressed the audit point by point, beginning with its recommendations on real property tax collection. He cautioned against writing off too many years of uncollected taxes, since the county would lose that revenue permanently. The county is owed approximately $20,000,000 in real property taxes, according to the audit by Gitlin, Knack & Pavloff, LLP.
The corrective action plan by Briggs would increase training sessions for staff, create a new clerical position in the Department of Public Works to notate purchase offers, and increase random audits from the countys in-house auditors.
The audit questioned the countys need for off bank accounts by other departments. He defended the necessity of maintaining some off bank accounts, particularly in law enforcement.
Financial Management Committee Chairman Jonathan Rouis commended Briggs for a nice, thorough response to the audit.
Briggs will face a vote this Thursday which will decide his future as county manager. Democrats have been mostly tight-lipped, using the audit and the countys financial accountability as their only public justification.
Cunningham and fellow Democratic legislator Ron Hiatt met with Briggs on Friday and presented him with a copy of the resolution which calls for his removal without cause. Briggs said the contract he has with the county allows for him to be fired without cause.
Briggs said that Hiatt told him he was extending the same courtesy as Briggs had given to Hiatt when Hiatt was let go by the county as the managing attorney in child services.
Hiatt was let go after a decision by the legislature to lay off several employees in a budget-cutting move in 2002. At the time, Briggs requested an opportunity to meet with each employee before they were fired, so they had a heads-up.
Hiatt said the vote on Thursday will be a vote of conscience. I wanted to look him in the eye and not do anything behind his back. I wanted to be straightforward with him.
Hiatt has been highly critical of the countys internal financial accounting over the last month, calling the system broke.
Democrats Sam Wohl and Kathy LaBuda would not reveal their positions regarding the move to fire Briggs.
Cunningham and Sullivan County Legislature Vice Chairman Jonathan Rouis did not return calls for comment.
Republican legislators appear to be sticking with him. Briggs said he has received over 150 calls in support and appreciation from individuals including fellow legislators. He said he has still not been given any reason by Cunningham or other Democrats as to why they are moving to fire him. He is currently preparing a statement for Thursday.
In other business, Sullivan County legislators will not act hastily in response to a bill recently signed by New York State Governor George Pataki, which will allow active members of Sullivan County fire and volunteer ambulance services to receive up to $3,000 off their assessments.
According to Paul Burckard, the Sullivan County Director of Real Property Services, the bill was sponsored by New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and New York State Senator John Bonacic.
The county would need to pass it by March 1 for it to go into effect for the next years tax season.
Real Property Committee Chairman Rodney Gaebel called the legislation an unfunded mandate by the state. He said the state should make the towns, schools and county whole on the tax revenue lost.
Burckard said that only members with at least five years of service could be eligible. After 20 years of service, a volunteer would be guaranteed the exemption for the rest of his or her life.
The county would have to hold a public hearing on the matter if legislators chose to adopt the law. Villages, towns and schools would have to hold their own hearings.
Elsewhere, the Financial Management Committee unanimously approved a 3 percent increase in aid to Sullivan County Community College. Legislators estimated that contribution to be between $75,000 and $100,000 more than last year. The colleges 2005-06 operating budget of $16,249,192 called on the countys share to be $3,677,100.
The committee also unanimously approved an agreement with New World Systems, introduced by Management Information Systems Chief Information Officer Richard Robinson, to provide its Payroll and Human Resources suite of software on a six-year lease basis at a cost of $30,299.71 plus an annual maintenance fee per year starting at $17,200, increasing by $1,080 per year.
In an earlier General Services Committee meeting, legislators unanimously approved a contract with Darlind Construction of LaGrangeville, which was the lowest bidder to build a concrete floor at the Road Maintenance Building at the Maplewood Facility on Route 17B at a cost of $60,000.
Sullivan County Assistant Attorney Cheryl McCausland has taken a leave of absence to spend more time with her young children. She plans on getting back in touch with Sullivan County Attorney Sam Yasgur in October to discuss her future plans and in what capacity she could return.
McCausland has been the top assistant attorney to Yasgur and previously to Ira Cohen.
McCausland has been with the county attorneys office since 1999.
My goal is to eventually work while theyre in school a little bit, she explained. This is a major decision. I love my job. It has given me the greatest satisfaction. Ive been an attorney going on 19 years. The fact that Im going to be taking care of my family gives me a great sense of comfort.
She has a nine-year-old daughter and twin 11-year-old sons.
Im looking forward to accomplishing [parenting] goals in a calm, organized manner, she added.
The Legislature is currently seeking a full-time candidate to fill her position.