For roads, bridges, buildings, vehicles
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO December 24, 2013 A bare minimum of legislators agreed Thursday to bond nearly $10 million for a variety of infrastructure projects considered crucial to the county’s future.
“We have [Public Works] equipment in this bond that we absolutely need,” explained Legislator Kathy LaBuda.
She found no disagreement on the necessity from any of her eight colleagues during the full Legislature meeting.
But three legislators Cora Edwards, Cindy Gieger and Kitty Vetter voted against passing the bond at that time, wanting to wait until January to review and solidify the numbers and needs.
“We need to have the implications going forward,” Gieger said, referring to the potential tax hikes in 2015 and thereafter to pay off the bond(s) and whether a similar amount of existing debt is now being paid off to make room for this new debt load.
“We just received a bond rating upgrade from A+ to AA from the S&P index,” Edwards said afterwards. “We don’t want to compromise that rating before the ink is dry by overburdening the taxpayer for generations into the future. We need a balanced approach to fixing roads and bridges while remaining fiscally sound.”
“In moving forward, I will be working on guidelines to be included in a resolution for January that will include a summary of the impacts on the tax rate for large bond requests,” added Gieger. “The bond request amounts were presented without a thorough vetting through the county treasurer’s office. While we realize the necessity of funding road and bridge repair, we need to be clear going forward of the fiscal impacts of multi-million-dollar bond requests BEFORE a vote.”
But the required two-thirds majority of the Legislature did agree to the bonding resolution, so by March, County Treasurer Ira Cohen said the $9,557,750 will be bonded.
The funding will be used for elements of the just-adopted Capital Plan.
Here’s how it’s split up:
• $6 million for road reconstruction
• $264,750 for bridge reconstruction
• $239,000 for work at the Adult Care Center in Liberty
• $817,000 for solid waste equipment
• $868,000 for construction equipment
• $857,000 for new vehicles
• $215,000 for work on the county museum in Hurleyville
• $200,000 for new sidewalks, curbs, steps and catchbasins at the Government Center in Monticello
• $97,000 for hangar work at the airport in White Lake
Some take raise, others don’t
Though all nine legislators are entitled to a $1,000 raise in 2014, Gene Benson, Cora Edwards and Cindy Gieger declined theirs.
Thus those three will stay at $21,600 a year, while Kathy LaBuda, Jonathan Rouis, Kitty Vetter, Alan Sorensen and Ira Steingart will rise to $22,600 a year, and Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson will earn $31,600.
Samuelson’s salary, however, could diminish to his colleagues’ level if he is not re-elected chairman at the January 2 reorganizational meeting. Vice chairman Gene Benson plans to challenge him for the leadership spot.
Officially in charge
Thanks to a unanimous vote by the Legislature, Livingston Manor native Josh Potosek on Thursday officially became Sullivan County’s new manager.
He replaces the man who hired him as budget commissioner seven years ago David Fanslau, who left in March.
Split on attorney
There was another split vote Thursday, and again, a bare minimum majority got the resolution passed.
Health and Family Services Commissioner Randy Parker had requested the reinstatement of a long-dormant managing attorney position, which would oversee a variety of facets of the social services system in the county, including the legal and child protective services departments.
Resistance to the $80,000-a-year job (not counting benefits) from within the departments was echoed at the legislative level, with the measure passing 5-4.
Legislators in favor were Gene Benson, Cora Edwards, Cindy Gieger, Alan Sorensen and Kitty Vetter, while those against were Scott Samuelson, Ira Steingart, Kathy LaBuda and Jonathan Rouis.
The dissenters did not explain their disagreement during the meeting.
Legislators unanimously agreed to prepare a request for proposals (RFP) for firms interested in assisting the county’s understaffed Planning Division.
The division remains without a permanent commissioner, with Jill Weyer in the role until legislators figure out what they want to do with the division long-term.
In the meantime, they hope a professional planning firm can help the division develop operating procedures and a “pipeline of actionable projects,” plus assist with grantwriting and comprehensive planning.
Opposed ‘on principle’
Legislator Gene Benson registered his discontent with Sheriff Michael Schiff during an otherwise non-controversial series of votes.
Legislators unanimously agreed to set salaries for County Treasurer Ira Cohen and a variety of non-unionized county employees, mirroring raises negotiated earlier this year with the various unions.
But when it came time to do the same for the Sheriff, Benson proved the lone dissenter “on principle.”
“Let’s take care of the men,” he said, referring to the Sheriff’s Office’s deputies and civil personnel.
Later in the meeting, Benson said, “I’m all for public safety. The statement I made was not against the Sheriff personally. This is business.”
Benson said he’d like to add dozens more officers to the ranks, but due to severe fiscal constraints, “we need time to bring things back to the way they were.”
He insisted he was not “picking on” anyone, but when asked about it after the meeting, Benson admitted it was a shot across Schiff’s bow.
“He keeps picking on legislators… with skewed truths,” Benson told the Democrat, referring to Schiff’s lament that legislators aren’t giving his office the staff needed to effectively combat crime in the county. “He’s making us out to look like bad guys.”
Schiff, he added, already collects a state pension for his years as a state trooper.
However, Benson’s vote is merely symbolic, as the eight other legislators agreed to Schiff’s raise.
When contacted afterwards, Schiff took issue with what he feels is a personal attack rather than a regard for public safety.
“This whole thing with some of the legislators has clearly been personal,” he told the Democrat, recalling other instances, like an ATV being labelled a “toy.” “And I find it to be inappropriate.”
Schiff said Benson should be sitting down with him to discuss how to increase public safety in a cost-effective fashion, “rather than taking potshots at me.”
“He doesn’t have to like me this is about public safety,” he explained.
Schiff is grateful the Legislature agreed to give him back two of the five deputy positions he lost when 911 was separated from the Sheriff’s Office, so he continues to ask for three more.
“Basically, we’re down 10 people,” he said.