By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO “The future of broadband really is wireless, especially as we go to 4G service,” County Planning Commissioner Luiz Aragon predicted to legislators Tuesday.
“But,” he added, “it’s going to take a while to get here.”
That’s giving the county time to investigate its options to expand high-speed Internet access across its 1,000 square miles.
Four areas representative of the county’s varied terrain have been selected to test “creative solutions.” They include the Delaware River valley, the Bashakill valley, the Catskill Park region, and most of the northwestern portion of the county.
This week, legislators unanimously gave the go-ahead to use $15,000 in federal funding to pay New Jersey-based V-Comm to come up with such solutions.
One wired solution, however, is already under way in Willowemoc, according to Aragon and Time-Warner Cable’s Matt Dorcas, a Sullivan County resident.
Garnering five-year commitments from people who work from home and/or telecommute, Dorcas was able to convince Time-Warner to extend Business Class cable services to 124 homes in Willowemoc.
That commitment allowed Time-Warner to justify the enormous expense of stringing fiber-optic cable to a sparsely settled area.
V-Comm, however, is working on wireless solutions, as well, and will issue a report and recommendations later this year, said Aragon.
County Treasurer Ira Cohen happily announced on Tuesday that Moody’s had decided to continue Sullivan County’s Aa3 bond rating, signalling the ratings agency’s confidence in the stability and security of the county’s finances.
As a result, the county was able to sell $9.5 million in general obligation public improvement bonds in a way that will save $2 million in interest payments over the next 15 years, Cohen explained.
And the rating applies to the county’s entire $64.4 million in outstanding debt.
“For Sullivan County to keep its rating ... is really a wonderful thing for us and this Legislature,” Cohen noted.
“Great work!” replied Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson.
The challenge remains, said Cohen, to avoid dipping further into the county’s fund balance and to find new revenues to offset increasing expenses lest Moody’s rating drop.
More financial good news
Cohen also was pleased to relate that final calculations showed the county collected $306,152.51 more in sales tax in 2011 than it did in 2010, for a 2011 total of nearly $33 million.
He added that already, 2012 is proving to be a better sales tax year than 2011, with sales tax revenues up $220,533.04 over this period last year in what is typically considered the economically slowest time of year in the county.
Mortgage and room tax revenues, however, continue to decline, though final figures are yet to be collected.
Despite Legislator Cindy Gieger’s desire to temporarily extend (and then closely review) the county’s various contracts with outside agencies, she and her colleagues unanimously approved re-upping each one through fiscal year 2012.
“You can cancel contracts with 30 days’ notice,” pointed out County Manager David Fanslau.
Legislator Cora Edwards had her own idea: have each agency fill out a “budget summary sheet” indicating how they receive and spend every penny.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” observed Legislator Jonathan Rouis, who only worried about a one-size-fits-all form. “... I just want to make sure this answers the questions we want answered.”
Legislator Kathy LaBuda indicated she preferred meeting with each agency over the course of the summer instead.
Grahamsville resident Ken Walter suggested distributing county funds on a quarterly basis and withholding payments to agencies which have not complied with the Legislature’s requirement of receiving minutes of every agency’s board meeting.
“You can see some are more diligent than others,” said Walter, handing out a list of agency minutes the county has on file. “... If we’re going to have one under the microscope, let’s have all under the microscope.”
Additionally, Youth Bureau Board Chair Barbara Durbak urged legislators not to further reduce funding for the Bureau, which serves 8,000 children countywide and is facing an up to 31 percent loss of funds, due to potential county and state actions.
She invited legislators to the board’s meeting in a next-door room later that day, but instead, LaBuda invited the board to a future Legislature meeting.
“Let’s send a letter to the state opposing their proposed cuts,” Rouis proffered, noting that at the county level, virtually every agency is dealing with a 15 percent county funding cut.
Vacancies to be filled
Legislators unanimously agreed to fill 9 of 12 vacancies presented to them this week.
The filled positions include a probation officer, Family Services caseworkers, a nurse, an account clerk, a social worker, an Aging Services aide, a part-time nutrition site operator and a Public Works laborer.
A second social worker, a Sheriff’s deputy and a patrol chief will be reviewed next month by legislators. Some of the positions are already temporarily filled but perhaps not for long.
“I always thought the undersheriff was the chief of patrol,” stated Legislator Gene Benson, “and I don’t understand why he is not.”