Legislature Wrap: Money, staffing on plate
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO November 22, 2013 Money and manpower were twin themes at last week’s raft of Legislature committee meetings, but a variety of other interesting topics also came up.
Probation may gain
The Probation Department looks like it will get at least one more officer to help move non-violent offenders out of the overcrowded county jail sooner rather than later.
Director Jeff Mulinelli and staff have repeatedly made the case that workloads exceed existing staff’s availability, meaning more people who could be out of jail doing community service are instead holed up in a cell either here or in another county.
“We have an inability to process the pre-sentence reports the court requires,” Mulinelli explained, noting that the turnaround process can take as long as three months.
He estimated at least 20-30 current jail inmates could be conditionally released under this program, saving the county hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“There is general agreement that [funds for a new Probation officer] is money well-spent,” affirmed Legislator Jonathan Rouis.
Ravi Shankar of the New York Power Authority (NYPA) pitched a proposal to legislators Thursday to do a report on the potential energy efficiencies to be found at the 40-year-old Government Center in Monticello, specifically its heating and cooling system.
“There will be a county cost in the initial audit of $2,500,” he said.
And if the county decides to proceed with energy retrofits, there will be additional costs, he said, though the hope is they’d be outweighed by the resultant savings.
“Our goal is to provide you with a positive cash flow,” he affirmed.
NYPA is a state agency which oversees energy generation and promotes energy efficiencies. Shankar described it as a “one-stop shop” that can aid the county in designing, constructing and installing energy-efficient equipment.
Legislators yesterday agreed to fund the study for $3,000, then review it to determine whether to proceed further.
Exit 106 changing again
Legislators yesterday auth-orized a $20,000 agreement with McFarland Johnson Inc. to review a redesign of Exit 106 off Route 17 in Monticello.
While the exit was recently revamped by the state adding a long-awaited eastbound exit ramp and reconstructing a bridge to meet coming Interstate 86 standards the near-certainty that a casino will be built nearby is prompting a redesign to more efficiently route what is expected to be a high amount of traffic.
County Route 173 traverses the southern portion of the exit, where a traffic light is now proposed to be replaced with a roundabout.
The $20,000 to review the proposal is being funded through an escrow account set up by EPT Concord II, the corporation behind the casino plans on former Concord Resort Hotel property.
The company is also working with the Town of Thompson and the state on the northern portion of Exit 106, where a reconfiguration will allow exiting traffic to directly access a coming entrance road to the casino complex, to be located parallel to Joyland Road.
District Attorney James Farrell, in his monthly report to legislators, had some new numbers to share and not just that 2012 had the highest number of burglaries ever reported in Sullivan County (568).
“We have the highest per-capita rate of use of hydrocodone in New York State,” he said.
“I think we’re overprescribed.”
Time to redistrict
Legislators yesterday agreed to pay $12,500 to Skyline Demographic Consultants of Schenectady.
The firm will analyze 2010 U.S. Census data and develop a plan for the Legislature to redistrict itself.
Each of the nine legislators is supposed to represent the same number of people in the county. But populations have changed within each of those nine legislative districts, thus requiring a redrawing of the boundaries.
The report and recommendations will be due back by June.
A new park
Legislators are planning to dedicate existing county-owned property in Pond Eddy as parkland.
“It’s part of our match for the $25,000 grant,” said Planning Commissioner Jill Weyer, referring to a state grant funding a plan to create six new or improved accesses to the Delaware River.
Located close to the Pond Eddy Bridge, this new parkland won’t accommodate boats larger than kayaks or canoes, but it’s expected to draw in more tourists through attention-grabbing signage and proximity to businesses.
“I think this is a very positive step,” said Legislator Alan Sorensen.
New broadband idea
The county’s coming 911 tower system will have the capacity to offer broadband Internet services to private, civilian consumers.
But that will be dependent on whether the county can attract an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to directly offer such.
Frank Yoder, who’s developing just such a network as the Pennsylvania State Police’s broadband services manager, told legislators that Thursday that the nine new or reconstructed towers coming to Sullivan County will be able to offer speeds of up to 10 megabits per second (Mbps) in an eight-mile radius (both are maximum figures).
Considering the cost for private companies to string fiber-optic cable to these locations, Yoder indicated it might be the only way (sans satellite) to provide the high-speed access legislators have been clamoring for.
Plus it could bring in some revenue for the county. Pennsylvania is getting 20 cents on every dollar an ISP makes off this service.
Still, Yoder said, “I would encourage you not to look at it as a revenue-generator. ... Look at it as an investment in your county.”
The towers in Sullivan County are being designed with the capacity to handle 150 Mbps of traffic at a time, and Yoder said that’s more than 10 times beyond the highest-ever recorded usage of the towers he oversees in Pennsylvania.
“It’s plenty to serve both purposes,” he said, referring to the public and private usage, though he added, “It’s up to an ISP to determine if and how many customers it can serve.”
He also admitted that the county’s topography will limit how far the signal travels (as residents with cellphones well know).
“It’s a step in the right direction,” affirmed Legislator Ira Steingart, “but it’s not the end-all answer.”