Dan Hust | Democrat
Legislator Cindy Gieger talks about the proposed new county jail while Jail Administrator Hal Smith listens behind her.
Legislators talk about taxes, jail, and 'local preference'
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO January 14, 2014 From the jail to taxes to new bidding rules, legislators engaged in a wide-ranging series of discussions during Thursday’s slate of committee meetings.
Red or black?
Deputy County Treasurer Nancy Buck affirmed to legislators Thursday that the county’s 2013 mortgage tax collections were more than $200,000 higher than 2012’s.
That’s not necessarily a sign the real estate market is shifting dramatically, however.
Buck credited several “extremely high” property sales for much of the $687,000 in mortgage tax collected last year, far higher than the $469,000 from the year before.
Though final numbers are yet to be tallied, sales tax revenues for 2013 are trending similar to 2012’s right around $31.2 million, with the difference being around $68,000 currently.
Room taxes for 2013, however, are far below 2012’s, by close to $126,000.
There too, though, final figures aren’t yet available.
“We do have one vendor who hasn’t paid their quarter yet,” said Buck, referring to quarterly room tax payments from an unidentified but apparently significant hotel.
If that payment does not arrive or is small, she affirmed that the room tax revenues could easily stay depressed.
How to buy a jail
In anticipation of a meeting this week on a proposed redesign of the new county jail, legislators on Thursday discussed ways to pay for it be it $40 million, $80 million or somewhere in between.
Of particular concern is the fact that even after the county starts paying for the bonding costs of a new jail, the old jail will need to continue operating until the new facility is open likely a two-year overlap.
Legislator Kathy LaBuda suggested dedicating a million dollars in surplus monies annually to the jail costs, while Legislator Cindy Gieger thought the millions the county is expected to get in casino “hosting” fees (should a local casino be built) could go to the jail expenses.
“It’s going to be 2-4 years before a casino is up and running,” argued LaBuda. “... In my opinion, we cannot wait five years to build a jail.”
Gieger, however, is adamant that the new jail has to be built for less than the $80 million the current design is anticipated to cost.
She estimated the new jail’s interest alone could cost taxpayers $5 million a year.
“I realize we need to do something with the jail,” she explained. “It’s the financial end of it that doesn’t work for me.”
But her thought that boarding-out inmates to neighboring county jails could be cheaper was negated by Jail Administrator Hal Smith, who said the county paid close to $1 million in outboarding costs in 2013.
Legislator Alan Sorensen urged his colleagues to move forward soon.
“I can guarantee you mortgage rates are going to go up from this point,” he predicted.
One thing that did seem to be settled Thursday was the new jail’s location on county-owned property near Route 17’s Exit 104.
Legislator Gene Benson recalled being promised that Goldberg Group Architects a firm which believes it can design a $40 million jail would look at the feasibility of using the former Woodbourne Annex state prison site instead.
But when he asked if that was considered, Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson told him “no.”
Despite Benson’s obvious frustration, Woodbourne seems to be permanently out of the running.
“Unless you have the five votes to rescind that resolution [choosing the Exit 104 location],” LaBuda pointedly remarked, “that is where the jail will be built.”
‘Local preference’ now allowed sort of
You could hear the awe and surprise in Purchasing Director Kathy Jones’ voice.
“This will allow us so much flexibility when we make an award,” she told legislators Thursday.
Jones was referring to a statewide revision of the rules governing the awarding of bids specifically allowing a long-sought “local preference.”
According to the NYS Comptroller’s Office, it is now legal to include the idea of “best value” when determining who wins a bid above $20,000.
“Goods and services procured and awarded on the basis of ‘best value’ are those that the county determines will be of the highest quality while being the most cost-efficient as offered by the responsive, responsible bidders,” Jones wrote in a report to legislators.
One of the “best value” criteria is “proximity to end user, if distance and response time are significant factors.”
Up till now, firms had to be chosen if they were the lowest responsible bidders. That often led to out-of-county or out-of-state businesses landing lucrative bid awards with the county.
But now that distance (and other factors, like quality of craftsmanship and product durability) can be taken into account, local firms may be on equal competitive footing.
Jones admitted it will create more work for her staff, but she seemed excited about the possibilities.
“We’ve never done anything like this before,” she said. “We’ve never been allowed to.”
She still isn’t legislators must first adopt a local law permitting the change in bidding procedures.
A public hearing about the proposed new law will be held in February. Legislators will decide an exact date and time at the full Legislature meeting this week.
Police in schools, parolees on streets
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO January 14, 2014 Following up on a conversation from the prior month, County Manager Josh Potosek told legislators last week that two schools Tri-Valley and Monticello are interested in paying the county to have Sheriff’s deputies serve as school resource officers.
Livingston Manor’s superintendent told Potosek she’s interested, too, but would have to speak to her board first.
Liberty and Fallsburg have local police departments which currently supply officers to interact with students and teachers during the school year, while Roscoe reportedly rejected the idea.
No info was provided on Sullivan West, and BOCES already has an arrangement with the county for a deputy’s services.
But what happens when the school year and the schools’ funding ends? Potosek suggested legislators consider re-creating two dispatcher positions in the Sheriff’s Office. That would free up the two existing deputies who man the phones (one per shift), allowing them to go on patrol.
That in turn would negate the existing need for two more full-time deputies, said Potosek, and the resulting savings could pay for the months that the school resource officers aren’t actually in the schools.
Though Sheriff Michael Schiff was not present, Potosek said the idea was developed in conjunction with him.
Still, Potosek acknowledged, “the dispatch idea doesn’t have to be married to this” school resource officer idea.
At a subsequent meeting, Schiff discounted the idea, as the existing deputies at the phone desk are light-duty and could not be put on patrol.
“Right now, I don’t see an advantage in hiring a dispatcher,” he told legislators.
Ultimately, they decided to mull the costs vs. benefits before making any decisions.
Parole Committee may be created
Also last week, legislators in the Health and Family Services Committee tentatively agreed to create a group to cut down on the expensive release of parolees on Sullivan County soil.
The Parole Review Committee, if approved by the full Legislature this week, will be tasked with reviewing each potential parolee’s parole date and the availability of housing and other assistance.
Committee members will also scrutinize the inmate’s place of origin, in order to ensure he/she only returns to Sullivan County and utilizes its resources if that is really his/her home.
The committee will consist of appointees of Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson, though the resolution specifies the inclusion of the county’s Health and Family Services Commissioner Randy Parker, 9-11 members of that division, a legislator, and representatives of the NYS Dept. of Corrections, Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and Probation Dept.
They’ll all serve without compensation and at the Legislature’s pleasure, making some legislators wonder how they’ll accomplish anything, given existing busy schedules.
Parker envisioned only an hourlong meeting every month, but Legislator Jonathan Rouis felt a “smaller, more nimble committee” might be in order.
Samuelson encouraged legislators to let the idea be tried before tweaking it.
“We can give it six months,” agreed Legislator Cindy Gieger.
“We might actually come up with a solution,” added Legislator Kitty Vetter.
Legislator Kathy LaBuda, however, abstained until she has more time to review the proposal.