Dan Hust | Democrat
SULLIVAN COUNTY LEGISLATURE Chairman Jonathan Rouis delivered his State of the County Address on Tuesday at the Government Center in Monticello.
agenda for '09?
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Sullivan County Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis sees a hopeful future for the county, but his State of the County Address Tuesday focused on the work he feels is needed to reach that future.
Though gratified many of the proposals in last year’s State of the County speech reached reality in 2008, Rouis didn’t gloat. In fact, he began his speech with the bad news.
“It is impossible to start any dialogue about the state of Sullivan County without first addressing the global economic crisis and the trickle-down effect it is having on all of us,” he remarked to the crowd inside the Government Center.
“... For Sullivan County, this recession has meant fewer available jobs for our residents and harder economic times for our families. In two years, our unemployment rates have gone from 4.8 to 8.6 percent. The number of properties currently in foreclosure proceedings is at a ten-year high, and applications for assistance, such as HEAP [Home Energy Assistance Program], are up by more than 30 percent.”
Rouis said planning is key to ensuring these issues don’t get worse. Toward that effort, he highlighted the following:
• Refining the Sullivan 20/20 Plan, originally begun by former County Manager Jonathan Drapkin and still serving as a guiding document. Specific revisions would address gas drilling and land use.
• Implementing the recently approved Strategic Plan, which County Manager David Fanslau has already been doing.
• Following a six-year Capital Plan to guide funding and construction of the mandated new county jail, the green technology park at the college, and the county landfill.
• Explore sharing services with neighboring counties, plus smaller municipalities inside and outside Sullivan.
• Create “a permanent housing solution” for the county’s homeless.
• Institute an oversight board for the new Economic Development Corporation, an umbrella group servicing the economic development agencies in the county. (Those agencies, he said later, will help determine who’s on the board.)
• Continue working with the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe and its partner, Trading Cove Associates, to bring a casino to Sullivan County. (While the Concord’s Entertainment City was mentioned earlier in his speech, Rouis did not mention the Senecas’ plan nor legalized gambling. He later told the Democrat that the Senecas have not contacted the county about their casino idea, and legalized gaming “is a long-range project.”)
• Build up agriculture in the county, including specialty/niche farms. Part of that effort includes an agribusiness park in Liberty (to include a red meat processing facility), which Rouis, after the speech, said is currently undergoing cost estimates for sitework.
• Encourage green building and sustainable energy practices throughout the county, in particular through a continuing partnership with Sullivan Renaissance. In fact, one of the ideas being bandied about, he said, is installing security cameras around the county’s “hotspots” for illegal dumping.
• Create a legislative committee on Sustainable Energy Conservation and Generation, to be chaired by Legislature Vice Chair Ron Hiatt. (Plans are to have the committee start meeting in the spring.)
• Rouis also asked the county’s citizenry to become more involved in their communities.
“Now more than ever, volunteers are needed,” he said. “Our food pantries are low, our soup kitchens need helpers, and our children need strong, positive role models to emulate.”
He proposed a Philanthropy Summit for later in the year “that would inventory the needs of dozens of not-for-profit and faith-based organizations within Sullivan County, and hopefully encourage us all to work collaboratively to accomplish common goals and to reduce overhead expenses and duplication of services whenever possible.”
Though Rouis is a Democrat, Sullivan County Republican Committee Chair John LiGreci felt his speech demonstrated a sincere effort to be bipartisan in these initiatives.
“He does try to incorporate both parties, and I commend him for that,” said LiGreci.
But he’s concerned Rouis’ “aggressive” programs run the risk of impoverishing a county already facing a seven percent tax hike this year.
Rouis replied after the speech that the county’s green programs should produce cost savings and that the 2009 budget reflects “some hard decisions.”
“We’re very, very conservative,” Rouis concluded. “I’m confident we did a good job with the things we can control.”