Dan Hust | Democrat
Legislator Jodi Goodman, right, talks about public safety issues in the county during budget hearings on Tuesday. Listening are, from the left, DA-elect Jim Farrell, DA’s Office Legal Secretary Barbara Simpson and Sheriff Mike Schiff.
Health, safety officials decry impacts of cuts
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Legislators agreed with fellow county leaders on Tuesday that public health and safety cannot be compromised in the 2010 budget.
But exactly how they’ll accomplish that is not yet clear.
Sullivan County District Attorney-elect Jim Farrell, Sullivan County Sheriff Mike Schiff, Center for Workforce Development Director Laura Quigley and Sullivan County Public Health Director Carol Ryan were the speakers requested by legislators to illuminate their department’s budget issues on Tuesday.
Farrell and Ryan, in particular, had dire warnings for the county if proposed cuts to their departments are carried out in 2010.
“Investigations will not be commenced due to the loss of personnel,” said Farrell, who noted that the county budgets $85,000 more a year on defense services than it does on prosecution.
(County Manager David Fanslau later explained that cutting funding for legal defense services would result in the loss of a $325,000 grant from the state.)
The District Attorney’s Office, which Farrell will inherit in January from Steve Lungen, is facing funding and personnel cuts amounting to 25 percent of the $890,000 the county is considering slashing from public safety agencies, said Farrell.
Meanwhile, he added, Orange and Dutchess counties aren’t touching their DA offices’ staff, and Ulster County’s has seen an increase in personnel.
Though Farrell did not get into politics, Legislator David Sager acknowledged that politics had played a part with budget issues with the DA’s Office over the years.
“I certainly hope we won’t handcuff them, in more ways than one,” he said.
“I agree with you,” added Legislator Leni Binder. “This is just not the place to do the cuts.”
Noting that her home Village of Liberty has seen more criminal activity over the years, Legislator Jodi Goodman concurred.
“It’s shocking what my village has become,” she remarked, saying she doesn’t hear complaints about the roads anymore. “I do hear about the police.… It’s all I hear lately.”
She added that funding for the DA’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office must be considered together, and Schiff agreed.
“We’re down to the bone,” the sheriff lamented, though he did say that he’s working with Fanslau on reaching a mutually acceptable number on funding and personnel.
Later in the day, however, Ryan urged legislators not to forget the county’s health services and chided budget officials (specifically Fanslau, though she never mentioned names) for demanding more and more cuts.
With just a day’s notice, Ryan said she was asked to reduce her budget by more than $630,000 which she did, avoiding layoffs.
“[We] took some extraordinary steps to find that savings,” she told legislators, including mandating supervisory nurses to take on more field duties, eliminating county-provided cellphones, cutting several vacant positions and negotiating a lower bus contract rate.
But when Fanslau released the 2010 tentative budget, two staff members a senior account clerk/typist and an administrative assistant were listed as being eliminated.
“These two positions are critical,” Ryan said. “[Without them,] this department will fold.”
She passed out documentation listing the duties of these positions, which notably include handling billing and contracts.
The loss of a typist at first appeared trivial until Ryan pointed out that, with only one person left to do billing, the county stands to lose $400,000 in insurance payments.
She added that there is no one to take over the administrative assistant’s duties, which include managing all employee information and 215 contracts. She indicated that the lack of a worker in that position could cost the county as much as $4.5 million.
“If these targeted layoffs remain,” she concluded, “I guarantee that the agency will be in a desperate state, with complete inability to serve the public or to collect any revenue.”
She said her staff felt betrayed by Fanslau’s actions, though the county manager chose not to respond.
Legislators did respond, however, with Sager saying he was struck by Ryan’s unusually passionate presentation. He, too, criticized budget officials’ actions as “disingenuous and unacceptable.”
But, said Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis, “even with those numbers being met… we’re still looking at cuts and layoffs.”
“Just give me an amount, and we can make a further recommendation,” replied Ryan, who said she simply wants to be involved in the decision-making.
Legislator Alan Sorensen argued she should be given a chance and that the unions should take a look at her proactive attempt to find cuts.
“I think maybe the unions can pull something from that,” he observed.