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Dan Hust | Democrat

JUDGE JOSEPHINE FINN's Dream Project received $60,000 from the County Legislature in a resolution passed on Thursday.

Legislature gives – and takes away

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — January 29, 2008 — The Sullivan County Legislature gave – and took away – on Thursday.
The first regular meeting in 2008 of the full Legislature featured a $60,000 gift to the D.R.E.A.M. Tank project, while the Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA) found itself with a contract more than $250,000 less than years prior.
Funding her DREAM
DREAM project founder Josephine Finn had pitched her youth initiative to legislators the week before, asking for county funds to supplement a program that up to now had been supported with private donations.
County officials eagerly gave her more than she had asked for, dedicating $60,000 to the year-old program, which takes the county’s most challenging youth and teaches them respect, responsibility and ambition through structured, community-oriented tasks and games.
While part of the resolution authorized the sheriff to add an emergency services dispatcher to his ranks, controversy arose on Thursday when District 1 Legislator David Sager and District 7 Legislator Jodi Goodman questioned why the funds were coming from the Public Safety Contingency Fund – a result of last year’s sales tax increase, totalling $102,235 earmarked for the Sheriff’s Office.
Though County Manager David Fanslau and Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis indicated the Sheriff’s Office would still receive every cent dedicated to it in the 2008 county budget, Sager was adamant: “I’m unwilling to support it based on where it’s coming from and not where it’s going to.”
Goodman agreed, advocating for a separate line item in the budget to be created for the DREAM project – even willing to give it an extra $2,000 just to get it out of the Public Safety Contingency Fund.
She found little support from fellow legislators, who argued that the contingency fund was to be used in youth and gang prevention efforts.
Whether or not such programs are under the Sheriff’s Office banner should not be an issue, said District 5 Legislator Frank Armstrong and District 8 Legislator Ron Hiatt.
“Other programs don’t have the scope and breadth Josephine presented,” said Armstrong.
“It reaches out to help kids before they commit a crime,” added Hiatt, “. . . [and] it should be acknowledged as a public safety program.”
Finn urged legislators not to pit her initiative against any of the Sheriff’s Office’s.
“This is not us against the Sheriff’s Office,” she related. “The point is, if we build bigger people, then we won’t have to build bigger jails. . . . I’m sure the sheriff would like to see these children in school . . . not sitting in his jail cells.”
But, seeking the county to make a statement about the priority of her program, Finn also didn’t want it inserted as part of the Youth Bureau’s funding efforts, which is how the county normally deals with youth-oriented programs.
Goodman could not agree, saying that while she fully supports the DREAM program, the only reason she had voted to increase the sales tax was to better fund the Sheriff’s Office.
So with wording supplied by Fanslau, Goodman made a motion to approve $62,000 worth of funding for the DREAM program from the “New Initiative Contingency Fund.”
The four Republicans on the Legislature – Goodman, Sager, Leni Binder and Alan Sorensen – agreed to the motion, but the five Democrats – Rouis, Hiatt, Armstrong, Elwin Wood and Kathy LaBuda – did not.
Instead, the original resolution for $60,000 from the Public Safety Contingency Fund – plus an emergency services dispatcher for the Sheriff’s Office – passed 7-2, with Goodman and Sager against.
SCVA contract funding reduced
Without comment or dissent on Thursday, legislators approved three SCVA resolutions added to the agenda at the last minute.
Two focused on the SCVA Board, appointing 13 board members (mostly reappointments) and permitting the SCVA to change its bylaws so that board members begin their terms in January rather than November.
But the SCVA lost a significant amount of funding – $268,750 in all – from what it got each of the past several years.
According to SCVA Executive Director Roberta Byron-Lockwood, county officials told her it was due to a revised estimation of anticipated room taxes, which are intended to fund the SCVA.
Since the county budget expects $625,000 in room tax revenue this year (down from years past due to a steady dwindling of local hotels), the SCVA is getting $531,250 from the county this year, rather than the $800,000 it normally receives.
The resolution approved by legislators Thursday does guarantee the SCVA 85 percent of any room tax revenue above the expected $625,000, but Byron-Lockwood disappointedly noted that she will have to scale back tourism promotion efforts as a result.
“We’re in the process right now of reconfiguring our marketing,” she said yesterday, explaining that the SCVA will now focus on getting people to visit Sullivan County, rather than also marketing to an in-county audience.
Still positive about her relationship with legislators and the future, Byron-Lockwood hoped to prove once again to the county how valuable the SCVA is.
“I truly still believe the funding that goes into marketing the Sullivan County Catskills returns the investment,” she remarked.
Legislator Goodman, who was glad the SCVA did not (as was rumored) disappear or get folded into another agency, was confident such an investment would pay dividends.
“I believe the SCVA really is a vital organization,” she said yesterday. “They are warriors for us when we face tremendous odds [in the competitive tourism industry].”
Odds and ends
While a slew of annual contracts and appointments passed unanimously, two resolutions died quick deaths on Thursday.
District 9 Legislator Alan Sorensen once again introduced a surprise resolution to move the monthly full Legislature meetings from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month.
And once again, the rookie legislator’s argument that working people would utilize the chance to observe and comment on county government went nowhere, as County Attorney Sam Yasgur advised legislators that Sorensen’s resolution could not be introduced, since it had already failed in a committee meeting the week before.
The other “death” occurred earlier on Thursday, when the Public Works Committee tabled a resolution to hire the PFM Group to do a $25,000 study on options with the county landfill and solid waste.
Hailing the move, Sorensen added that he opposes any expansion of the landfill “on environmental grounds, but even more importantly on fiscal grounds.”
Sorensen’s district includes the landfill, and his victory over former District 9 Legislator Sam Wohl in November was widely seen as a public mandate to shut down the controversial facility.
Indeed, many of Thursday’s public speakers were citizens criticizing the Legislature for not listening to their pleas about the landfill. While most of their comments focused on the health issues, Sorensen looked to the financial impacts, as well.
“I think the question is,” he said, “can we afford it?”

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