By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO July 28, 2006 The Charter Commission continued to delve into the inner workings of the county government at its monthly meeting last Monday.
The commission will be quickening the pace next month, when it begins meeting twice as often.
The commission has interviewed a number of top county officials so far. County Treasurer Ira Cohen was center stage on Monday, spending the entire two hours of the meeting taking part in discussions, answering questions, and stating his opinion on a variety of subjects.
He told the group that cash flow remains a problem with the countys coffers. With a payroll of about $1 million a week, an annual budget of $207 million and a county debt load of approximately $60 million, times are a little rough.
Like others before him, he called for more internal auditing of departments. Currently, the countys two auditors spend most of their time reviewing vouchers, rather than close audits of departments.
Cohen said he hopes the commission has gotten past the idea of a return to the Board of Supervisors. The treasurer could not imagine that working out.
It is not feasible, he stated.
Speaking to commission member Noel Van Swols suggestion of a bicameral legislature, where the current Legislature would be joined by the Board of Supervisors, Cohen said that would make government work less efficiently.
The treasurer targeted the countys budget process as requiring reform. Indicating that he supported a strong central figure such as a county executive, Cohen said the current county managers budget is continually undercut by the Legislature. That makes the chairman of the Legislature more powerful than the county manager, he noted.
County Attorney Sam Yasgur, who has been sitting through the committees meetings, came out against a county executive. Yasgur has served under a county executive before. In response to a remark once made by Van Swol that legislators were not in touch with their constituents, the attorney said he believed residents would lose even more input if a powerful county executive was put into place.
Cohen said he did not believe in staggered terms, where elections would be held each year for different legislators. It would only slow down the decision-making process, he stated.
Several members of the committee expressed skepticism over the effectiveness of the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency and whether too much tax revenue was being given away. Commission members Bill Duncan, Bill Lucas, Dick Riseling and Sandra Schultz were among those who expressed concern about the process.
County Manager Richard LaCondre said the organization was important and that the problem lay in the lack of monitoring of the companies receiving the tax breaks. The corporations receiving the benefits often make promises about how many employees will be hired, but there is little followup to ensure they come through on their guarantees, stated LaCondre.
Cohen went one step further and said there are companies who are not fulfilling their promises to the IDA.
At the commissions next meeting on August 4, one or more representatives of the IDA will be expected to speak. The board is interested in hearing from Allan Scott, CEO of the IDA and former supervisor of the Town of Bethel. Scott was on the Board of Supervisors when the County Legislature was formed, so he is expected to offer much insight into some of the questions the commission has.
Finally, Riseling noted that some commission members were in danger of exceeding the maximum amount of allowed absences, urging regular attendance.