County Legislature hears: 'Rising crime, falling health'
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO April 9, 2013 Legislators tackled a host of issues during April's first round of committee meetings on Thursday.
Serious crime is rising in the county
Also on Thursday, District Attorney Jim Farrell gave updated figures on local crime for 2012.
On the positive side, the total amount of criminal cases countywide decreased about 13 percent from 2011, while felony arrests fell about seven percent.
But total violent felony arrests increased 14 percent, with nearly 40 percent of those arrests for home burglaries.
"One woman had her house hit twice. Twice!" Farrell related.
"We've been getting hammered for the past few years with burglaries," added Sheriff Michael Schiff. "... It's the drugs that are driving this."
And burglars have switched their focus.
"The money is in metal now", not electronics, said Monticello Police Chief Rob Mir.
Farrell is advocating for a Community Investigative Unit to replace the Community Policing Unit, which was disbanded five years ago.
"It requires funding," he acknowledged. "It's probably going to involve overtime."
Still at bottom of health rankings
Sullivan County continues to dwell beneath most of New York's 62 counties in many health indexes.
In fact, it continues to be the county with the worst premature death rankings.
"All the trends are coming down for premature death," said Public Health Nursing Director Carol Ryan. "We're just worse than everyone else."
Legislator Jonathan Rouis pointed out that the numbers, compiled by CountyHealthRankings.org, come from 2008-2010 data and thus don't take into account health programs the county has since started.
But Sullivan ranks above the state and national averages for unemployment and children in poverty.
"Poverty leads to poor health for a variety of reasons," Ryan affirmed. "We're a poor county, and our health outcomes are poor."
Personnel Officer Carolyn Hill told legislators she's held back on advertising for a Planning Division commissioner to replace Luiz Aragon, who departed last month.
She took that action because legislators have yet to discuss what they want to do with not only that position but the entire division.
Legislature Chair Scott Samuelson confirmed that he and his colleagues are considering a restructuring of the division and whether to have a commissioner, director or some other title for the leader.
The acting commissioner, Jill Weyer, is seen as a potential candidate to replace Aragon, but further discussion is expected at the Executive Committee meeting, scheduled for Thursday, April 18 at 2 p.m. at the Government Center in Monticello.
Legislators agreed Thursday in the Health Committee to further discuss the role of the Youth Bureau and a proposal to hire a part-time consultant to review pharmaceutical purchases.
The consultant would work 12-15 hours a month for $12,000-$15,000 a year, said Legislator Cindy Gieger, who anticipates equivalent savings in the drugs the county must purchase for Jail inmates and Adult Care Center residents.
But her colleagues aren't yet convinced of its necessity.
They also plan to discuss the future of the Youth Bureau during this Thursday's Government Services Committee, scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Government Center in Monticello.
In the meantime, legislators preliminarily agreed to move the D.R.E.A.M. Tank youth program underneath the county's Division of Public Safety instead of the Youth Bureau. The move is supported by the agency's founder, Josephine Finn, who told legislators she's focused on aiding at-risk children who might not participate in traditional programs like YMCA and Boys & Girls Club.
D.R.E.A.M. Tank will receive just over $33,000 from the county for 2013.
Restructuring foster care
Saying children are in desperate need of foster homes rather than institutionalization, Health Commissioner Randy Parker and Deputy Family Services Commissioner David Sager gave legislators a report showing they've reduced the county's contracts from 33 placement/care agencies to 15.
"The monitoring of contracts is an extremely time-consuming endeavor throughout the agency," the report reads. "Of the 33 contracts, it was discovered that the agency hadn't utilized 21 of those contracts within the past three-year period.
"In an effort to eliminate the potential risk and streamline agency efficiency, the administration decided to eliminate most of the un- or underutilized agency contracts."
More on roads and bridges
Legislators heard Division of Public Works Deputy Commissioner Ed McAndrew explain that 14.5 miles of county routes will be repaved this year, at a cost of $3.5 million.
McAndrew said around 40 miles of roads should be repaved every year to keep pace with deterioration, but that is prohibitively expensive.
An increase in funding from the state will allow the county to repave up to two more miles, he added.
"The price [of blacktop] has doubled since about 2006," McAndrew noted.
Supporting Paula's Law
In response to a horrific tragedy which befell Swan Lake resident Bill Liblick's sister, legislators on Thursday expressed support for Paula's Law.
Introduced by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and NYS Senator David Carlucci, the law, if enacted, would require security cameras at all entrances and exits of group homes, residential homes and inpatient facilities operated by the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.
"We as a society need to protect these people," said Liblick, who emotionally recalled the rape and eventual death of his sister, Paula, in such a facility.
Legislator Cora Edwards announced her hope to have a case study of retention practices for the county's long-term unemployed.
As of January, nearly 4,000 locals are on unemployment insurance, and Edwards is interested to see how many have been unemployed long-term and how others in similar situations ultimately found gainful employment.
Center for Workforce Development Director Laura Quigley confirmed that her agency will track a handful of unemployed locals to see how they find and keep employment.