Preparing for a cold winter in county
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Worried about making it through a winter of sky-high fuel costs and bone-chilling cold?
You’re not the only one.
And with a county that sees 75,000 people stick around for the “off-season,” you can bet local officials are worried about it, too.
In fact, Sullivan County Manager David Fanslau revealed this week that he’s formed a Residential Winter Emergency Task Force to ensure county government is prepared for a host of challenges.
First on that list is HEAP, the Home Energy Assistance Program, which foundered badly last year whilst serving 4,636 applicants.
The program helps pay the heating bills for low-income and elderly residents, and the county is completely reimbursed for any costs by the federal government.
More than $3.5 million in regular and emergency HEAP assistance was given to county residents last year, and Fanslau expects that to rise substantially.
“We’re getting prepared for an onslaught this winter,” he confirmed.
Thus, county legislators, in concert with Division of Health and Family Services Commissioner Chris Cunningham and staff, have agreed to double the amount of employees handling HEAP applications, from 7 last year to 14 this year, with 9 others trained as backups.
At the task force’s first meeting this week, members discussed setting up HEAP offices in the Government Center in Monticello and at satellite locations around the county.
They also are hoping to simultaneously teach applicants how to safely utilize alternate heating sources, like space heaters, in concert with the Bureau of Fire and Division of Public Safety.
“We’ll hopefully be unveiling a full-court education program,” said Fanslau.
The county is also asking the state to keep its HEAP applications computer system online 24/7 (it currently shuts down at 5 p.m.).
The task force, which will next meet in public at a to-be-determined date later this month, will also be inventorying a list of options and assets for short-term emergency housing, food, transportation, heating and fire prevention, said Fanslau.
Members include Fanslau, Cunningham, Dept. of Family Services Director Sarah Vacca and Outreach Coordinator Kathi Hitt, Division of Management and Budget Commissioner Josh Potosek, Fiscal Administrative Officer Mary Marino, Grants Administrator Art Hussey, Office for the Aging Director Jim Lyttle, Purchasing Dept. Director Kathy Jones, Public Safety Commissioner Dick Martinkovic, Mobility Management’s Ed Camp, research analyst Heather Brown, and legislators Ron Hiatt and Leni Binder.
Fanslau said representatives from CACHE, SLAC, the Federation for the Homeless, the Fire Advisory Board and local religious groups will be asked to participate, as well.
It’s all an effort to be ready for a winter that promises to be tough on every level.
“I think we’re going to be much better prepared than last year,” Fanslau remarked. “Hopefully, Mother Nature will be kind to us.”
For more information on the task force, contact Legislative Aide Alexis Eggleton at 794-3000, ext. 3305.