By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO With a new survey confirming a decades-long problem, Sullivan County may become New York’s 27th county to enact a “social host” law.
Such a law would hold adults responsible simply for hosting a party where those under 21 obtained alcohol, whether or not the adult hosts actually served young people the alcohol.
“We as a community [should say] we do not approve of this behavior,” urged District Attorney Jim Farrell, who presented county legislators with a draft of the proposed law yesterday.
“One of the things underage drinking leads to is a lot of social ills,” he explained. “... And when children use alcohol, it destroys the ability of their brain to develop normally, and that’s coming from scientists.”
He pointed to a community survey just completed by Prevention First-NY! and the Sullivan County CareCorps, where close to 94 percent of the nearly 400 respondents agreed that a “social host” law is needed.
Those same respondents overwhelmingly indicated underage drinking is a problem countywide and that most high-schoolers obtain alcohol via someone they know rather than through clubbing or fake IDs.
“The survey sheds some light on this issue,” Farrell remarked, “and it requires action.”
Fallsburg Police Chief Simmie Williams, who attended a recent townwide gathering on the problem, agreed.
“The kids know who the ‘cool’ parents are and migrate to that house,” he said.
“The kids aren’t doing the purchasing,” added Lynn Baron, who as the Recovery Center’s data coordinator collated the survey results. “They’re drinking at house parties.”
“And this is not unique to Monticello, Fallsburg, Livingston Manor,” added Luisa Parker, another survey coordinator and the Prevention First-NY! program coordinator. “It affects us all.”
“This is probably one of the most pernicious issues we deal with,” agreed Joe Todora, who heads the county’s Community Services Department. “I’m fully supportive of the legislators looking at this and the adoption of this.”
While the proposed law wouldn’t stop parents from giving their own children alcohol (permitted by state law), Farrell said it would hold adults accountable when they knowingly allow underage drinking on their property.
A new, shorter survey covering this and other topics is now available for anyone to take at http://sgiz.mobi/s3/327c685ed3a8.
Three new staffers added
To avoid Medicaid paperwork backups and the potential problems with the state and feds, legislators on Tuesday tentatively agreed to hire three new people for the Department of Family Services’ Medical Assistance Unit.
“Our caseloads continue to rise,” said Health Commissioner Chris Cunningham, pegging the number at 9,500, an all-time high. “That unit is stressed.”
County Manager David Fanslau said the three positions two social welfare examiners and one account clerk will feature salaries in the $20,000-$27,000 range that are 100 percent federally reimbursed, though he added that if the employees retire in 20-30 years, the county will pick up the post-retirement benefits costs.
That concerned legislators Kitty Vetter and Cindy Gieger, who advocated for finishing the nearly-complete strategic planning process first.
They ultimately were the only “no” votes in the Health and Family Services Committee, with legislators Jonathan Rouis, Kathy LaBuda and Cora Edwards in favor.
The official full vote of the Legislature will come on July 19.
The cost of transport
Medicaid was part of another discussion in the Health Committee meeting, where legislators began thinking about ways to lessen the approximately $1.5 million bill the county paid in Medicaid transportation costs last year.
The claims totalled nearly $6 million in 2011, but the county only pays 25 percent, with the state and federal governments picking up the rest.
As of June 30 this year, claims have risen past $2.5 million.
Several state officials were on hand to affirm that cost-saving measures have been implemented (i.e., grouping people headed to the same destination into one transport), and some legislators, like Rouis, pointed out that local taxi, bus and medical transport companies rely on these trips for revenue.
Other legislators, like Gieger and Edwards, remained worried about the drain on county finances and ensuring minimal waste and fraud.
A representative of upstate VMC Management Consulting then pitched his company’s ability to help find efficiencies and savings in public transportation.
No decisions were made, and such services, if desired, will likely be sent out for bid.
Elsewhere during Tuesday’s belated Legislature committee meetings, Public Safety Commissioner Dick Martinkovic and Fallsburg Police Chief Simmie Williams warned motorists of coming traffic congestion.
Martinkovic said that, in addition to the ongoing temporary closures of Route 17 in Bridgeville for blasting during bridge replacement work, the state will start repaving the Quickway from Exit 106 down to the Orange County line near Bloomingburg.
The highway may be down to one lane in each direction while the work is conducted between July 17 and the end of October, though work will be suspended on Friday afternoons to accommodate summer traffic.
Williams warned drivers to avoid the Route 42 corridor in the Town of Fallsburg this Sunday, July 15.
“This Sunday will be the first Camp Day of the summer,” he advised.