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Change is Rouis' goal for community

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — February 22, 2008 — Sullivan County Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis proposed a trio of initiatives last night during his first State of the County Address.
With the room full of dignitaries, residents and county officials, he detailed a strategic plan, the next steps in the county’s “green” focus, and a significant reorganizing of the county’s economic development agencies under one entity.
Building upon what is here
The strategic plan will be based on the Sullivan 20/20 Comprehensive Plan, said Rouis, “to develop not only a long-term plan for our future, but also a living document that will be updated every two years to reflect changes the Legislature deems necessary.
“I believe the first step in our strategic plan must be to assess what we have, before we start making plans on what we think we want or where we think we need to go, or spending money on things we don’t need,” he remarked.
“To this end, I propose the county immediately begin to compile inventories of our resources in four target areas: natural resources, cultural resources, agricultural resources, and industry and business resources.”
And in three months, Rouis wants to have “a complete and accurate sense of what Sullivan County has to offer” – and then discuss what to do with that.
Going even greener
Building upon the county’s recently adopted Green Vision Statement, Rouis proposed a partnership with Sullivan Renaissance “to provide a 50 percent match for the 2008 Environmental Demonstrations grants, which are awarded to individuals, groups or businesses that are working to achieve a healthy and sustainable environment.”
But the most notable initiative has an even broader purview: the Sullivan County Sustainable Energy Commission.
Led by Legislature Vice Chair Ron Hiatt, the commission “will be a multi-pronged effort designed to not only improve the county’s energy consumption but also offer sustainable energy production opportunities for public and private entities within the next 12 to 18 months,” Rouis explained.
Phase One will be an energy audit of all county buildings, grounds and vehicles, he said, “with a comprehensive remediation plan to be delivered to the Legislature by no later than July 1 of this year.”
Phase One will never really be complete, as it will expand to include schools, offices, town halls and private businesses and homes interested in having such audits and remediation processes undertaken.
Phase Two will begin this year as well, said Rouis, focusing entirely on exploring energy production for farms and agribusinesses, utilizing the Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development’s wholly grant-funded energy auditor.
Such businesses have prime potential for solar, wind and water power initiatives, and the county intends to work with them to purchase the necessary equipment via grants and subsidies.
Phase Three is the ultimate buildout of Rouis’ vision, involving the creation of a public energy corporation – in essence, merging the county, towns, villages and school districts into a single entity for the purpose of buying energy in bulk.
“Similar to what is currently occurring in neighboring Delaware County,” said Rouis, “the proposed energy cooperative will buy energy through a power broker, and the more energy we buy, the more money we save.
“The monies saved will be reinvested in purchasing medium-range power generation equipment to generate electricity for our own use, as well as income when we sell the energy back to the power grid.”
State officials familiar with such a plan will be attending a coming Council of Governments meeting to explain the concept further, he said.
Under one umbrella
Most dramatic of all Rouis’ pronouncements was the idea of the Sullivan County Economic Development Corporation (EDC).
Similar to one in existence in Dutchess County, the EDC would include the Partnership for Economic Development, Chamber of Commerce, Visitors Association, Industrial Development Agency and the Center for Workforce Development.
It would also oversee an “outsourced” (contracted, rather than in-house) Division of Community and Economic Development and have a board that includes county officials and private businesspeople.
“The boards of the participant organizations will remain intact,” said Rouis, “with the board of the EDC acting as the parent organization that will set policy and direction for our county’s economic development and growth.”
Calling the current economic development model “fragmented,” Rouis proposed putting these organizations under one roof at a to-be-developed site at the Emerald Corporate Park in Rock Hill.
“It is our intention that the Sullivan County EDC will eventually staff the participating organizations, which will realize greater efficiency and cooperation between the participating organizations,” he said. “More importantly, this centralized location will allow these organizations, through the EDC, to provide all of the constituent services as a true one-stop location for economic development in Sullivan County.”
(In an interview prior to the speech, Rouis said he is not proposing any layoffs or loss of staff, adding that he’s talked with all the involved agencies, and they have “embraced it.”)
In tandem with that effort, Rouis heralded County Manager David Fanslau’s plan to create a unified branding campaign for the marketing of the county and proposed an External Marketing Council to encourage public and private agencies to give the area a “single identity.”
To be composed of “key industry professionals and leaders in finance, real estate, utilities and related businesses” and be under the oversight of the EDC, “the External Marketing Council will promote Sullivan County to businesses outside of the county through advertising, publicity, direct mail and special events, as well as working with owners, brokers and real estate professionals to market commercial properties and establish new businesses,” he explained.
The last word
“We have serious issues to face,” acknowledged Rouis, “and no way to please everyone.
“. . . This path may not be easy, but I believe these things are worth working for,” he concluded.
“President John F. Kennedy once said, ‘I’m an idealist, without illusions,’ and I don’t know if that phrase has ever resonated with me more than it does this evening, as I stand before you, feeling the pressure of our current situation, yet still believing there is a better Sullivan County yet to come, if we are all willing to work together to achieve it.”

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