Democrat File Photo
Sheriff Mike Schiff spoke at a recent Executive Committee meeting of the Sullivan county legislature, where legislators discussed the formation of a police commission.
County issues continue to revolve around money
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Though Legislator Jonathan Rouis warned that the numbers will change “a million times” between now and the adoption of the 2013 county budget, Thursday’s figures still illustrated how the county’s finances remain legislators’ biggest challenge.
Budget Commissioner Josh Potosek crunched the numbers for legislators, showing that the gap between expenses and revenues may grow by $13.5 million next year, which alone would require a 27 percent tax increase just to keep the current level of services.
In the past few years, he added, major revenue lines have decreased by nearly $9 million.
“It’s a good picture to show you the kind of pressures you’re facing,” he soberly observed.
Treasurer Ira Cohen said sales, mortgage and room taxes are trending downward, despite some recent increases.
Without more from those revenue-generators, taxpayers may be asked to pick up the slack, especially since there’s not much surplus left in county funds (which helped reduce tax increases in the past two years).
One hired, one not
Later in the day, legislators did agree to hire an additional social welfare examiner in the county’s Medicaid Unit (fully funded by state and federal sources), but declined on another, since half that position’s salary would have to come from county coffers.
Legislators Cora Edwards, Kitty Vetter and Cindy Gieger reiterated their concerns that positions are being filled individually before the big-picture strategic planning process is complete.
“I think we need to set a policy for filling vacancies,” said Vetter.
County Manager David Fanslau, who’s long advocated for a hiring freeze, said it’s at the Legislature’s discretion.
Both votes were split. The filling of the first position was supported by legislators Scott Samuelson, Gene Benson, Kathy LaBuda, Jonathan Rouis and Ira Steingart, while it was opposed by Edwards, Gieger, Vetter and Alan Sorensen.
In the second vote, the opposition was joined by Benson, thus ensuring that position won’t be filled, at least immediately.
Afterwards, Teamsters union rep Sandy Shaddock said the reason legislators are needing to fill vacancies piecemeal now is because their predecessors hadn’t filled them when they became vacant.
She urged legislators to continue filling budgeted vacancies.
“In 80 percent of your departments, there are staffing issues,” she warned. “... You’re cutting people off at the knees and asking them to run a marathon.”
Get rid of hazardous waste
Though it’s been cut from two different days to one this year due to budget difficulties, the county’s household hazardous waste disposal event will return September 29, said legislators.
The day will allow residents to get rid of hazardous materials the county wouldn’t ordinarily accept.
The total cost will be $13,000, said Recycling Coordinator Bill Cutler, with the county only responsible for half.
Still spending on landfill
With bad weather having delayed the capping of the now-closed landfill, legislators reluctantly agreed to pay an additional $130,000 to consultant and monitor Cornerstone Engineering.
Public Works Commissioner Bob Meyer said $402,000 has been spent to date on such consulting and monitoring services for a capping project that overall cost close to $5 million.
“It was anticipated to be a one-year project,” he explained, “but they [the contractor] had slope failures.”
A delay in obtaining a needed state permit also held up the project, he added.
Sidewalks to be replaced
The entrances to both sides of the Government Center feature cracked and chipped concrete sidewalks, with one part already closed off, so legislators are moving to spend around $50,000 to replace them.
Meyer estimated the replacements will last at least 10 years, and the perimeter sidewalks will be repaired the following year.
County Manager David Fanslau indicated the $50,000 cost estimate would be preferable to any claims resulting from injuries sustained due to the sidewalks, since the county’s per-claim deductible is $75,000.
Wireless seen as future
With major technology improvements on the horizon, broadband consultant Darcy Gerbarg, president of DVI, told legislators Thursday that wireless Internet and telephone access will come to Sullivan County someday.
In the meantime, she said Verizon is already aiming to get out of the wired market and focus solely on its wireless network.
In a study commissioned by the county, Gerbarg (a Grahamsville resident) recommended the county continue to work toward getting communications companies to provide high-speed wireless Internet and phone services to every nook and cranny of the county.
Legislators took no action on her recommendations, which included hiring legal and engineering firms to acquire and operate the wired infrastructure if and when Verizon exits (so as to ensure a continuity of communications).
Legislators plan to form police commission
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO A proposal to create a countywide police commission is rumbling through the Government Center and area police agencies.
Legislators discussed it at Thursday’s Executive Committee meeting, where Legislator Cora Edwards, chair of the Public Safety Committee, likened it to the Real Property Advisory Board, which advises the Legislature on property issues.
The actual proposal says the Law Enforcement Commission would “comprehensively review the law enforcement needs throughout the county, starting with an inventory of available resources from the New York State Police to the Sheriff’s Office to town and village police departments and constabularies.”
The proposal reasons that such analysis is prudent to rein in duplication, excess costs and inefficiencies and especially since legislators worry that a tax increase will be necessary to keep the current level of services with the Sheriff’s Office.
Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson said the commission could guide legislators, many of whom are newly elected, in how best to move forward with local law enforcement.
However, the proposal has already generated protests from both the Town of Bethel and Village of Liberty boards, who fear the county will simply shift law enforcement costs and responsibilities to them.
And a range of off-duty police officers showed up at Thursday’s meeting, though none spoke, save for Sheriff Michael Schiff.
Schiff expressed worry that the commission which legislators said would be comprised of seven members would be civilian-only and thus feature political agendas not tied to providing quality law enforcement.
“I’m fine with looking into it,” he remarked. “It’s just the mechanism.”
He suggested convening a commission consisting of police and public safety officials, inviting the town supervisors and village mayors to participate, then ultimately bringing the public in via hearings and presentations.
Legislators, however, seemed inclined to keep it a mix of civilian and professional law enforcement members, though the exact makeup won’t be revealed till this Thursday’s full Legislature meeting.
A major concern stemming from the way the proposal was written is that the county may seek to reduce or eliminate the Sheriff’s Office.
Legislator Gene Benson vehemently denied such rumors.
“We want to do a comprehensive study,” he insisted, “... not get rid of any law enforcement agency.”
Afterwards, Legislator Kathy LaBuda with whom the proposal originated said the commission will likely be given six months to meet and then report back to the Legislature.
She, too, said the Legislature’s intent is not to cut the road patrol or eliminate the Sheriff’s Office.