Sullivan briefly

News from the Sullivan County Legislature, August 26 to September 1

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 8/24/21

MONTICELLO, NY — Here are the short takes from the executive committee meeting and the meeting of the full legislature on August 19.

Energy tax repealed? Why, yes

The legislature, in the …

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Sullivan briefly

News from the Sullivan County Legislature, August 26 to September 1

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — Here are the short takes from the executive committee meeting and the meeting of the full legislature on August 19.

Energy tax repealed? Why, yes

The legislature, in the executive committee meeting, voted 9-0 to completely rescind the residential energy tax. That tax, put in place a year ago, was meant to raise revenue to offset pandemic-related losses. While the final tally for 2020 wasn’t as bad as feared, some legislators argued that a little extra wouldn’t hurt.

In July, the legislature narrowly voted to eliminate the tax on oil and propane, but Nadia Rajsz pointed out that keeping the tax on electricity would unfairly impact people who heat their homes that way.

Evidently, after thinking it over, everyone agreed. The new lack-of-energy-tax will take effect on December 1. Commercial energy bills will continue to be taxed as they have been since 1975.

New public safety commissioner

Thomas Farney has been appointed the new public safety commissioner for Sullivan County. He replaces Rick Sauer, who left in July. For more see 'news'.

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Observers have likely noted that the legislature, in some key votes, splits 5-4, with Rob Doherty, Nick Salomone, George Conklin, Mike Brooks and Alan Sorensen on one side and Ira Steingart, Joe Perrello, Luis Alvarez and Nadia Rajsz on the other. It’s not a party-line divide, since Perrello is a Republican, and Alvarez and Rajsz are former Republicans. Are those split votes a broader trend in the legislature? .

Undersheriff Eric Chaboty crunched numbers and presented his findings in public comment at the executive committee meeting. There have been 500 votes in 2021, he said, and the legislature voted together 91 percent of the time.

Taking over the care center

“Sol at Infinite Care thinks the certificate will take three years,” said Lise Kennedy in public comment at the full legislature meeting. She asked about the delay in the contract. If the problem is the certificate, does that mean that the county has to wait three years for Infinite Care to take over?

“We understand now that nursing homes are failing all across the country, not just here. We don’t need the extra bureaucratic layer” of a management company.

Staffing the care center

Cat Scott, whose mother is a resident at the care center, warned that staff was exhausted, and with weary staff “accidents happen and things get forgotten.”

Legislators, listening this time, were concerned.

“I don’t know what’s going on up there with the care,” said Perrello. “We need to find out what’s going on because they deserve good care.”

“Staffing is a problem” everywhere,” said county manager Josh Potosek. The county is trying several approaches, including increasing per diem pay, but “it’s not easy.”

“That should be one of our top priorities,” Perrello said.

Rajsz suggested staffing agencies.

They’re working on that too, said Michelle Huck, assistant county manager.

“People there are working continuously, 12 hours a day, five, six, sometimes seven days,”  said Alvarez. Perhaps there’s a personnel issue. “I don’t know how we’re going to solve it.”

Hazard pay, voted on again

Hazard pay is meant to compensate frontline workers for their service in the pandemic. The legislature has agreed that it’s important; their differences lie in how it would be funded, how much workers would get, and who those workers are. Should the issue be folded into raises for underpaid county employees? Should it come from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds?

The ARPA, while affirming the importance of hazard pay, does not stipulate (it only recommends) how that money is used.

Previously, the legislature voted to allocate $375,000 for hazard pay, $3,200,891 for SUNY Sullivan’s capital project, and $3,750,000 for public works’ highway program from half the ARPA funds. (Actually, the initial vote had nothing for hazard pay, $3,750,000 for roads, and $3,575,891 for the college. Some legislators changed their minds after vociferous public comment.)

So perhaps this is the last vote?

This time, the executive committee divided the ARPA funds between roads and the college capital project as they did the first time. Hazard pay—potentially increased to $450,000—is to come from the contingency fund. Payments are capped at $500 per employee, minus taxes. Huck said that 20 extra employees are allowed for in the resolution.

Whether an employee dealt with the public was key in deciding who was a frontline worker.

Conklin asked if that would include employees of the care center, who worked in a building with just residents of the facility.

Huck said that they counted as public.

The legislature voted in favor of the new improved allocation, 8-1, with Conklin dissenting.

Public comment weighed in

Kennedy read a statement from another county resident, who asked that ARPA funds be spent on encouraging people to get vaccinated, to create outdoor clinics, and to fund a staff position in charge of referrals to various social service organizations, to work at times when the government center is closed.

“This is your legacy. We’re the poorest, sickest county in New York. We’re given $7 million this year, $7 million next year… and you people have decided to spend $7 million on roads and boilers,” an unidentified commenter said. “It is unconscionable. Who decided this?”

We should “bring the workforce back to 2019 levels,” Ken Walter, in the full legislature meeting, said. “Replace money used for budget modifications.” In the past, he’s also highlighted the long-term effects of COVID-19 and the fact that no money is being banked to look after those patients.

“I’m very concerned that the legislature has disregarded the wishes of the public,” sais Martha Scoppa. Had they considered the May survey, that offered ideas? Improved mental health care, premium pay, opioid treatment and programs for abuse survivors were all on the table. “Yet only one of these choices, premium pay, has been considered by this legislature...who are you representing? Where are your priorities?”

She asked legislators to pay attention during public comment. “For those of us who speak, there was thoughtful preparation and attention to facts...public comment has brought important information to your attention. Public comment deserves respect.”

What is the contingency fund?

It’s mentioned multiple times in the county budget, and there’s a description on page 244 of the executive summary. A sort of rainy-day fund, it will cover “unexpected events.” The amount in it is limited by statutory law, and legislators aren’t supposed to just use it as a checkbook. They have to move the amount needed “from the contingency appropriation to the appropriation account needing funding.”

The fund, labeled as “Contingent” in the full budget, is on page 71. It stands at $3.6 million for 2021.

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Carol Montana

Thank you, Annemarie! The briefs easy to read and you're able to get so much information into the story.

Wednesday, September 1