Legislature will focus on shared services, budget
SCHUYLER COUNTY—The Schuyler County Legislature saw several new faces in office after the November general election of 2013. New members and veteran legislators will look at many options for county plans in 2014. When the REVIEW&EXPRESS asked what projects each legislator wants to focus on during 2014, common responses were the county’s ability to share services, reducing the budget and continuing work on Project Seneca.
Newly elected Legislator Van Harp (District 2) outlined several ways he plans on reducing county spending.
“[I will] reduce county spending through: 1.) Increasing our participation in the shared services concept where possible with adjacent surrounding counties,” Harp said. “2.) Review services provided with a goal of retention of vital services and elimination of those deemed no longer necessary, or critical. 3.) Actively support a review of state mandates and a move to roll back outdated or unnecessary mandates. 4.) Review and streamline governance based on efficiencies resulting from numbers one through three. 5.) Initiate spending plans with specific objectives and goals in connection with revenue generated from sales taxes. 6.) Actively support repeal of the SAFE Act.”
Legislator Phillip Barnes (District 2) said one of his focuses this year will be addressing welfare fraud in the county’s Department of Social Services.
“The first accomplishments that I would like to see is to initiate a complete policy established between the Departments of Social Services, the district attorney’s office and local law enforcement is the manner in which welfare fraud is investigated,” Barnes said. “There needs to be more of a priority placed on enforcement and education to deter persons from committing fraud. This is all tax payers’ money and is within the control of the county agencies to manage it.
“A complete review of all contracts and agreements that may include financial audits to ensure that the county is getting the best financial income from its resources or that we are not involved in overspending in other areas. [I will] continue, as the other legislators, to pursue shared services with Yates County and other counties. Schuyler County needs to be the leader with the local towns and villages in consolidation, re-organization of its services, and the financing of those services in conjunction with the current governors initiatives. [I will] continue to mandate that the county budget is under the required tax cap with emphasis on cutting expenses and taxes.”
Schuyler County Chairman Dennis Fagan (District 1) said reducing the cost of government and focusing on shared services are some of his goals for 2014.
“My goals for 2014 regarding the Schuyler County Legislature include: 1.) My overriding goal is to lessen the cost of government while improving the delivery of services. Included in this goal would be to strengthen and improve the performance of the treasurer’s office, enhance the revenue generating potential of the Mental Health Department, and developing a comprehensive program to reduce the spiraling homelessness costs facing the county. 2.) Initiate and hopefully complete the shared service study with Yates County to determine the feasibility of collaboration between the two counties ranging from functional shared services to full consolidation. 3.) Renew emphasis on business development in the county including recruitment of tenants in the business park. Schuyler County will also help in the selection of a new executive director for the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development. 4.) Continue to support the villages of Watkins Glen and Montour Falls in the development of a new regional wastewater treatment facility which is the first component in the implementation of Project Seneca. 5.) Continue to lobby New York State and the governor’s office to rescind their ill fated decision to close Camp Monterey.”
Legislator Michael Lausell (District 3) said his 2014 priorities include the regional wastewater treatment project along with economic development to increase the tax base.
“The issues of primary concern to me are: 1.) Ensuring that the deficiencies in county financial accounting are corrected. 2.) Assisting the progress of the waste water treatment facility or facilities for Watkins Glen and Montour Falls. 3.) Pursuing economic development that will increase our real property tax base and increase sales tax revenues in our county. 4.) Exploring shared services with neighboring counties where it will achieve cost efficiencies,” Lausell said. “I support studying the feasibility of a “single stream” recycling program in our county, as in neighboring counties where revenues generated from the sale of recycled materials cover the costs of operation of the program. I have been appointed to committees that address the concerns of local farmers, and will support the needs of local agriculture in the legislature.”
Legislator James Howell Jr. said he will be the only new legislator chairing the the community development and natural resources committee and will focus on several issues pertaining to it and other committees he sits on. Howell said one of his goals will be wrapping up the county-wide comprehensive plan in 2014, working with the county planner and committee to finish the work on it. He said getting a business developed in the business park is another priority. He said he is “optimistic we will have one or two businesses in the business park” by the end of the year, although he said it is not certain as of yet. Howell said replacing a bridge, working to eliminate welfare fraud within the Department of Social Services and working to increase revenue from the county’s mental health clinic are also top priorities. He said there was gap in anticipated revenue in 2013, but added “the gap is closing, and the problem is not as severe as we first thought.” Howell said outside of committees, he plans to “continue to represent and be a strong advocate for Montour Falls for Project Seneca.” He said he will advocate their needs as well as those in District 4 and will help them reach their goals as well.
Legislator Barbara Halpin (District 3) said term limits are on her list of priorities for 2014, along with economic development and resolving issues within the treasurer’s office.
“Taxes are too high in Schuyler County,” Halpin said. “This is a point that nearly everyone acknowledges. I would like to see government address that through aggressive economic development including a comprehensive, county-wide economic development plan with an implementation schedule, recruiting businesses to the Business Park, recruiting businesses that support our tourism industry, and an analysis of combining the resources of SCOPED and the Chamber of Commerce. And decreasing the cost of government in Schuyler County through a comprehensive analysis of best practices in municipal government that would lead to consolidation of services with other counties, towns and villages, and an aggressive analysis of program implementation that would, working with New York State government, lead to less costly, more effective program implementation. 1.) I would like to see the legislature adopt term limits. 2.) I would like to see all remaining issues in the treasurer’s office resolved by the end of the year. 3.) I would like to see the legislature commit, by whatever means necessary, to decreasing the tax rate.”
Legislator Stewart Field Jr. (District 1) said adopting a budget with a lower tax rate and consolidating services are among his goals for the upcoming year.
“As in previous years we as a legislature will continue an attempt to reduce county spending and lower the tax rate,” Field said. “[We will] continue working together with Scope IDA and chamber of commerce in bringing forward more economic development to the area. [We will focus on] consolidating more services with our towns, villages and surrounding counties. [We will] adopt term limits no more than three consecutive terms [and] assist the treasurer in making the office more efficient. [There will be a] strong effort to increase the fight against welfare and food stamp fraud. We are on right track but must continue to strengthen that effort.”
County Administrator Tim O’Hearn said his goals for the next year will be influenced by the legislature, with the budget, dark fiber network and Project Seneca being some of the issues he will address.
“With the qualifier that much of my work in 2014 will be influenced by the goals of the legislature as a whole, there are a number of areas that I do envision having a direct role working on behalf of the legislature,” O’Hearn said. “First and foremost will be to continue efforts to control costs and increase revenue opportunities to keep Schuyler County’s budget within the tax cap limits. This is an ever challenging task in that almost 90 percent of the county budget is dedicated to providing mandated services on behalf of New York State. We will also be refining our performance based budget through review of all of our performance measures, to provide even greater transparency as well as strengthening this as a management tool. Additionally, maximizing the benefit of the newly constructed dark fiber network to increase affordable, high speed broadband coverage within all areas of the county, increase economic development opportunities and enhance emergency 911 communication capacity.
“Continuing to explore shared service opportunities is also a top priority, with immediate attention focused on facilitating the Schuyler–Yates study. We need to continue to assess the amount and cost of local government within New York State, and the fact that a two county study is unprecedented, speaks to the commitment of both counties to seriously address this. Project Seneca remains a top priority as well, and the county will be actively engaged in the planning and implementation of what is the single biggest economic development project in our history.”
Legislator Thomas Gifford (District 2) did not respond by press time.