By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO June 9, 2006 With a budget shortfall of more than $4 million staring county legislators in the face and major cuts to local agencies being proposed after state representatives refused to carry a .5% sales tax increase, politics have grown quite rough between local and state representatives.
Feelings between the office of New York State Senator John Bonacic and Sullivan County Legislature Chris Cunningham are certainly at an all-time low.
On Wednesday, Bonacics assistant, Langdon Chapman, accused the county of making political patronage hirings. That charge was flatly denied by Cunningham and County Manager Richard LaCondre.
Chapman noted the Senator has secured over $800,000 in funding for various programs and agencies in the county over the past year.
The taxpayers deserve value for their tax dollars, not more patronage hiring and budget fat at the county level, said Chapman.
The Senators office said there were 56 hirings since January and that the county refused to name who the newly hired employees were and what positions they held.
We are told there is a lot of patronage hiring, said Chapman.
Cunningham said that all of the hirings since January had been budgeted for, except for that of Frank Armstrong, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Sheriff, who was given a position in the office of the Veterans Service Agency. VSA Director Eric Nystrom requested the new position.
Furthermore, Cunningham disclosed a letter sent to Bonacics office last May in response to the Senators request for specific information on how the county would be affected by not having the sales tax increase approved. In the letter, LaCondre outlined how 21 of the 56 positions filled in 2006 were health-care related (including 15 for the nursing home), 8 for social services and 7 for seasonal employment for construction or parks. The others were not named.
The Chairman said he has invited Bonacics office to come speak with him further if necessary. He also accused Bonacic of playing a political game.
This is a smokescreen, he said.
The Chairman said he had never heard directly from either Bonacic or Gunther that they wouldnt support the bill until last month. He said the bill should have been respected as a home-rule bill, and chastised Bonacic for criticizing the countys budget when the state has its own problems.
For Gunthers part, on Monday, she announced a one-time allocation of $350,000 to assist a number of local agencies threatened with a 50 percent cut in funding from the County Legislature. Those agencies and their 2006 funding from the County Legislature are:
Cornell Cooperative Extension $480,000
Sullivan ARC $171,000
Soil and Water Conservation District $134,000
Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development $75,000
Sullivan County Head Start $34,000
Community Action Commission $30,000
Delaware Valley Arts Alliance $25,000
Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce $25,000
Sportsmens Federation $25,000
Library Alliance $15,000
Eagle Institute $10,000
Sullivan County Literacy Volunteers $5,000
Sullivan Performing Arts $5,000
Meanwhile, the county has proposed additional cuts to departments in order to make up for the remaining balance. More specific information was released on Wednesday by the county administration on how those cuts would affect certain departments.
Last month, those departments outlined how the cuts would affect them in letters sent to the administration.
The largest cut was $2,108,074 to the Department of Family Services, which is actually $959,268 of the county share. The savings would be met through a hiring freeze, the elimination of one or more contracted services and a reduction to numerous programs.
Robert Meyer, Director of the Department of Public Works, has outlined a savings of $715,000 through not filling 20 full-time vacant positions and 50 part-time positions.
The cuts will affect drainage improvement, pothole-filling, roadside mowing, bridge maintenance, and snow and ice control.
Those positions range from building maintenance mechanics to custodial workers, transfer station operators, bridge maintainers, motor equipment operators and laborers.
The department will also not purchase equipment for the landfill, including a $118,350 compactor and a $14,400 daily cover applicator. The landfill will be closed on Saturdays, and a contract with Lynch Consulting will not be renewed.
Carol Ryan, Director of Public Health Nursing, said her department would have to lay off a bilingual outreach worker, a clerical staff member and possibly one other worker. In addition, three vacant positions would not be filled.
The Probation Department currently has three vacant probation officer positions which would not be filled. In addition, Director Genevieve Dainack said $149,000 would be saved through the cutting of another probation officer, a legal secretary and a database clerk.
Management Information Systems would not fill two positions at a cost savings of $100,000.
Five positions in the Department of Community Services would not be filled at a savings of $193,000.
About $400,000 might be charged back to the countys towns who have students attending out-of-county colleges. LaCondre said the county has that right under state law.
Further savings include $193,000 from the Department of Community Services by not filling five positions, $35,000 from the Sullivan County District Attorneys office for drug enforcement, $21,000 from the Human Rights Department, $60,000 from the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department to hire two new patrol officers and $50,000 from the Sullivan County Jail.
Each director said the cuts would hurt morale by creating an increased workload on their employees. Some said that would increase overtime pay, sick-leave and general stress levels.
County legislators briefly discussed the measures on Tuesday at a meeting surrounded by union leaders and workers from the Sullivan County Museum.
Yesterday, they were set to meet again and discuss the matter further. LaCondre was scheduled to provide a list of the countys non-mandated programs. No action has yet been taken on the proposals.
Legislator Leni Binder said next years budget will be even more difficult as the costs of the new jail approach. The new jail has been estimated to cost 50-60 million dollars.
Majority Leader Kathleen LaBuda has proposed a rollback of the pay raises the legislators accepted in this years budget.
Ironically, the county actually received approval about three years ago to raise its sales tax by .25 percent for a year and half, but that has since expired.