By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Turns out the county’s estimated premium increase with the NYS Health Insurance Program (NYSHIP) will be 3.388 percent, or a net hike of $81,148 next year.
That’s far less than the 10-20 percent increase once feared, which had led the county to pursue a self-insurance plan. An agreement with a third-party administrator fell apart at the last minute, forcing the county to stay with NYSHIP.
County Manager David Fanslau told legislators on Thursday that he recommends the $81,148 be obtained from the county’s fund balance (surplus), out of which more than $6 million is already being used to ensure a 2012 budget with no layoffs or service cuts.
That rapidly earned approval from the legislators in the Management and Budget Committee, but Legislator Ron Hiatt thought another item ought to be funded, too: the contract with the Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development (SASD).
This year, the group was paid $45,000 to advise county officials on ways to “go green,” save money on energy costs, and ramp up environmental education and initiatives.
This year, Fanslau proposed no funding for the SASD contract, instead using Heather Brown, a research analyst with both his office and the Office of Sustainable Energy.
A possible impetus for that proposal was revealed by Legislator Jodi Goodman, who said SUNY Sullivan offers similar services and was “insulted” to not be included in their work.
Interim Sullivan President William Murabito was present, and while he didn’t indicate the college was upset, he did say his colleagues are willing to provide assistance on projects.
Goodman saw collaboration with the college as a way to maximize the county’s green energy push cost-effectively.
She added she believes in the concept but that the county does not have the funds to continue the SASD contract.
“Heather can do it,” she explained.
Brown already works with SASD on such matters, but several other legislators agreed that SASD consisting of Dick Riseling and various volunteers should continue to play a part.
“It’s been beneficial to the county and businesses,” Legislator Alan Sorensen noted, recommending funding be restored albeit at $25,000 instead of $45,000.
Incoming legislators, though yet to take office, were also asked for their thoughts, with all but Gene Benson expressing support for Sorensen’s proposal. (Benson, like the legislator he will replace Leni Binder felt the best course lay with the college, which sits in their legislative district.)
Riseling himself deemed the potential savings from eliminating SASD’s contract “a matter of perception” and reminded legislators he and his crew have helped fund their efforts through grants one of which will sustain the program until April.
“Have we saved the county money?” he asked rhetorically. “In my opinion, yes.”
Fanslau said he was not opposed to reinstating SASD’s funding but warned that legislators need to start looking at the non-mandated contracts with all outside agencies.
“It’s cost-avoidance versus savings,” he noted.
Hiatt then wondered if there might be support for exceeding the two-percent property tax hike cap for the 2012 budget. He estimated that a four percent tax increase, coupled with concessions from labor unions, would give the county around $2 million to work with.
“Two million dollars downwind could save us things like the Adult Care Center or CHHA [Certified Home Health Agency],” he pointed out.
He found himself alone, however, in advocating for exceeding the cap, and legislators took no action on Thursday effectively sealing the cap in place, as a vote would have been required that day to go beyond it.
In the meantime, the Management and Budget Committee unanimously agreed to partially restore SASD funding, settling on $25,000, to be obtained from the fund balance.
Goodman did recommend to future legislators, however, that they involve the college in sustainability policy meetings.