Dan Hust | Democrat
In a presentation given to legislators Thursday, Sullivan County Division of Public Works Deputy Commissioner Ed McAndrew points to one of many county bridges suffering from the ravages of time and weather and a lack of funding and manpower for repairs. This particular bridge is in the Town of Rockland.
County may have to close bridges
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Amongst all the other issues arising from the county’s fiscal crunch, legislators are wrestling with how to maintain the 400 bridges under their watch.
“We’re kind of falling backwards again right now” in bridge maintenance, noted Public Works Deputy Commissioner Ed McAndrew in a presentation made to legislators Thursday.
For much of the past half-century, the county replaced an average of more than four bridges per year, but since 2011, that’s dropped to under two due to financial issues.
Deterioration, however, has not slowed, and legislators’ eyes widened when McAndrew showed photo after photo of rusting bridge beams. More than 50 bridges, in fact, are “flagged” due to varying levels of deficiency.
And it may not get better soon. Though McAndrew indicated at least $11 million will be needed over the next four years to stay current on bridgework, federal funding has decreased and state funding is uncertain.
And the smaller county staff, he added, will make it difficult to fully utilize any outside bridge funding the county receives.
In short, that means bridge closures may be inevitable.
Legislator Kitty Vetter wondered if townships who used to own many of these bridges before the county took them over would be willing to help fund repairs and replacements.
“Has that ever been approached?” she wondered, noting that towns could sue the county if bridges aren’t properly maintained.
Legislator Kathy LaBuda suggested she take it to the Supervisors’ Association, which meets regularly.
In the meantime, McAndrew said the new county bridges that are being built will have a 60-year lifespan as opposed to the usual 50-year.
The PowerPoint presentation is slated to be made available at the county’s website: www.co.sullivan.ny.us.
Debt not forgiven
Their sympathy notwithstanding, legislators in the Planning, Environmental Management and Real Property Committee meeting Thursday declined to forgive part of a $15,000 loan the county made to a former Liberty business.
Monticello-based Sneaker World opened a Liberty branch on Main Street earlier this year, but asbestos contamination reportedly shut down the store and forced the destruction of its entire inventory, said Planning Commissioner Luiz Aragon.
The shop had been open less than a month, yet the owner still remains current in his repayment of a loan the county had made for the store’s renovations back in March.
The owner offered $10,000 if the county would forgive the remaining amount, currently totalling just over $3,400.
But both the county’s Revolving Loan Fund Committee and legislators opted to decline the offer, worrying it would set a bad precedent.
According to Aragon, a similar loan from the Partnership for Economic Development was forgiven, but monies from the Village of Liberty have not been.
“Is there no way to ease the pain?” wondered Legislator Cindy Gieger.
County Manager David Fanslau said the county attorney had advised against forgiving, and Legislator Kathy LaBuda worried that making an exception might commit legislators in the future.
“I feel bad, and I know they’re good businesspeople,” agreed Legislator Alan Sorensen, “but I think it sets a bad precedent.”
No formal vote was held, but that continued to be the informal consensus.
Hauling it in
Also on Thursday, legislators seemed interested in working with the various private trash-hauling companies which combined owe around $1 million to the county.
Treasurer Ira Cohen said the larger companies have the larger debts, but a previously successful installment payment plan might be the route to go again.
He assured legislators that the haulers are not trying to duck responsibility but are likely unable to cover all their expenses, leading to the shortfall.
“Part of it is that at the same time they’re paying off old debt they’re accruing new debt,” Cohen told the Democrat.
Since the county doesn’t want to lose the revenue it is collecting from these haulers, legislators gave Cohen the green light to prepare resolutions for January’s meeting to reauthorize the installment payment program.
Legislator Alan Sorensen, however, expressed some uncomfortability with in essence extending a line of credit to these companies.
“Do we ask to look at their books?” he wondered.
“That’s something we can talk to them about,” replied Cohen.
“We’re not a bank, and we shouldn’t be,” added Legislator Ira Steingart, “but we don’t want to lose the haulers.”