By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO A plan to detail on county tax bills the costs of state and federally mandated programs drew sharp criticism at Thursday’s meeting of the County Legislature.
“I feel this is targeting the poorest element of Sullivan County,” Narrowsburg resident and former county Office for the Aging employee Star Hesse told legislators. “... It is totally improper to try to balance the economics of this situation on the backs of the poor and infirm of Sullivan County.”
“Transparency is one thing,” Grahamsville resident and seniors advocate Priscilla Bassett added. “... But this is clearly discriminatory transparency. ... This is unseemly in an election year.”
Hesse said breaking down the mandates especially regarding social services and welfare would lead people to blame the needy and not what she felt is the root cause: “the mismanagement and greed of officials charged with handling the county’s affairs.”
Bassett agreed, “Let’s not stigmatize our fellow residents’ genuine need for services by singling them out.”
In the end, however, only legislators Kathy LaBuda and Frank Armstrong voted against the proposal. (Dave Sager was not present.)
“This delineation has nothing to do with any program we control,” Legislator Leni Binder explained.
“I’ve been working all my life for social services and the people they help,” Legislator Ron Hiatt added, arguing that the public should know about the “hidden taxes” created by many unfunded mandates and the state and federal officials behind them.
“It’s not about the people who receive the benefit,” he remarked. “It’s about the people who direct how the money is spent.”
College budget passes
Though the drama of weeks past did not reappear, Thursday’s final approval of the county’s $4 million contribution to SUNY Sullivan’s upcoming budget briefly seemed destined to be postponed.
“I really believe this is a sham we’re going through today,” remarked Grahamsville resident Ken Walter. “The public was not given ample time to look at the budget.”
Walter had not been able to locate the college’s proposed budget on either the college’s or county’s website until he found it “buried” on the county manager’s page.
Walter urged the Legislature to table a vote until it and the public had more time to review the budget, and he found support from Legislator Hiatt.
“I don’t disagree with recessing it for a week,” Hiatt told his colleagues though that would have entailed a special meeting just for that vote.
Ultimately, only Hiatt and Armstrong were in favor of delaying the matter, and the county’s contribution was subsequently unanimously passed.
Want to serve?
The county’s website (co.sullivan.ny.us) now features information on board vacancies for which the Legislature appoints residents.
On the county’s homepage, click on the “Board Vacancies” link near the top of the page, which will open up a PDF of the current openings for potential volunteers.
A second deputy treasurer
Legislators also unanimously approved the creation of a second deputy treasurer.
County Treasurer Ira Cohen later told the Democrat the title change involves a current staff member who is taking on more duties as a result of layoffs and retirements in his office.
He added the staffer will continue her current duties and won’t get a raise, though she will become third in command, after Cohen and Deputy Treasurer Nancy Buck.
Only Cohen, however, is an elected official. The two deputies and the rest of his staff are county employees.