By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Roscoe general contractor Pat Murtagh took his crusade for better regulation of the contracting industry to the County Legislature on Thursday.
Hundreds of construction jobs are created every spring and summer due to demand, he pointed out.
“Unfortunately, most of them are [paid] under the table or off the books,” he told legislators in the Community and Economic Development Committee, to which he had been invited.
And when contractors and their employees don’t pay their fair share of taxes, workman’s comp, Social Security and the like, law-abiding employers like Murtagh suffer unable to match their competitors’ lower prices.
“Their labor cost is 31 or 32 cents less on the dollar than legitimate employers pay,” he explained.
Murtagh argued that this problem infects even longtime Sullivan County contracting businesses, though he didn’t name names.
And because of lax enforcement, “it’s really been allowed to thrive in Sullivan County,” he lamented.
Prior efforts to more tightly regulate, even license, contractors have failed, but legislators are now considering a voluntary registration system that could inform homeowners and code enforcement officers of the companies that are following the rules.
“I really believe it’s worth looking into again,” assessed Legislator Jodi Goodman.
“Make it a voluntary registration because it would be to your benefit to register as a contractor,” Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis mused.
He hoped the county Chamber of Commerce would take on the task, but Legislator Leni Binder thought it might fall under the home-rule purview of individual townships.
“Home rule is not an absolute,” replied Legislator David Sager, who argued that code enforcement officials and town leaders have too often let problems slip past, creating a “Wild West” atmosphere in the county.
“There needs to be a set of standard operating procedures by which they [code enforcement officers] are held accountable,” Sager urged.
The state, too, was criticized for its lax enforcement, though county native Neil Gilberg, now a state workmen’s comp official, recently started a pilot program to address the issue.
Whether there will be further action at the county level, however, remains to be seen.
County Planning Commissioner Luiz Aragon informed legislators that Rouis and Chamber President Terri Ward are Sullivan’s representatives on the new Mid-Hudson Regional Council.
An economic development initiative from Governor Andrew Cuomo, the council idea was received coolly by legislators, as Sullivan will now have to compete for the same pool of state funding with six other counties: Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Ulster, Putnam and Dutchess.
“So it’s imperative that we be represented there,” acknowledged Rouis, “but it’s going to be a tough lift.”
The county also no longer has a local Susan Jaffe at the helm of the state agency which oversees and distributes economic development funding.
Jaffe, of Livingston Manor, has been replaced as the Mid-Hudson Empire State Development Corporation’s executive director by downstater Aimee Vargas.
With legislative approval, Arcadia Aviation has given its operations lease of the county’s airport to Fleet MSV.
“It stays exactly as it is,” County Attorney Sam Yasgur said of the 30-year lease terms. “They’re simply stepping into the shoes of Arcadia.”
Arcadia ceased operations earlier this summer, leaving the county to hire an emergency operator of the airport in the interim.
County Manager David Fanslau confirmed to legislators that the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation finally issued a permit for the county’s single-stream refuse and recycling facility near the landfill in Monticello.
The permit means the complex which is already handling waste as a transfer station can fully ramp up operations and allow haulers and residents to separate their recyclables into one container, rather than the multiple-container process that is the norm now.
Fanslau added that the county is talking with Hudson-Baylor, who was originally going to operate that portion of the system, to have IESI the current operator of the transfer station handle both.
The recyclables would still be shipped to Hudson-Baylor’s out-of-county processing facility, but IESI’s 10-year contract with the county would have to be amended. (Fanslau would prefer IESI set up its own contract with Hudson-Baylor.)
The matter is expected to be discussed further at the recessed Public Works Committee meeting on Thursday, August 18 at 12:45 p.m.
Keeping the money
Legislators in the Public Safety Committee unanimously agreed to set a public hearing on a law that will allow the county through the District Attorney’s Office to seize and keep all the illicit funds and property recovered from misdemeanor drug activity.
DA Jim Farrell successfully advocated for the law, which in draft form gives his office the ability to retain or sell at auction such recovered property and keep all the proceeds, rather than hand them off to the state.
A third of the funds would be paid into the DA’s County Forfeiture Account, while another third would go to the involved police agencies, and the remaining third would be put in a “Law Enforcement Against Drugs” account for use in efforts like DARE.
The public can weigh in on the proposal on Thursday, September 15 at 1:50 p.m. at the Government Center in Monticello.